By the time Ashley Nicole Hooper and Sean Michael Balaban met on Valentine’s Day in 2015, both had learned how difficult it can be to maintain a relationship while dealing with chronic health issues.
Ms. Hooper, 30, has ulcerative colitis, diagnosed at university. Mr Balaban, 33, has type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, diagnosed when he was 11 and 16 years old.
“It can be quite challenging trying to find a partner who can understand and understand the nuances of managing these conditions,” Ms Hooper said.
The two met at a party hosted by Mr. Balaban’s rugby team at Moose Lodge 1558 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. He approached Ms Hooper after overhearing her say she couldn’t drink beer when someone offered to buy her one. “I slipped into it,” said Mr Balaban, who is also unable to drink beer.
Ms Hooper added: ‘We quickly had something to tie ourselves to and were immediately attached at the hip.
They spent the rest of the night exchanging playful banter and arguing about baseball (he’s a Yankees fan and she supports the Red Sox). “I’ve learned that Sean’s confidence can sometimes be a little stronger,” Ms Hooper said. “Sean learned he would never win a game of ping pong against me for the rest of his life.”
When they walked to their cars, Mr. Balaban asked Ms. Hooper for her phone. “I said ‘No’ and he said ‘I’m trying to give you my phone number’,” Ms Hooper recalled.
A week later, the two had their first date at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida, and within a month they were “official,” both said.
“You don’t see anyone else, do you?” Neither am I,” Mr. Balaban recalled telling Ms. Hooper. “OK, we’re exclusive.”
Mr. Balaban, who is from Port Washington, NY, graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He works for Dun & Bradstreet, a data and analytics company, as Director of Growth Marketing.
A native of Marathon, Florida, Ms. Hooper holds a bachelor’s degree in event management from the University of Central Florida. She is the talent and leadership development program coordinator at HubSpot, a company specializing in customer relationship management software.
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As they dated, the ability for each to share personal medical developments with the other helped deepen their bond.
“I felt more comfortable talking about my health issues than I ever had in my past relationships,” Ms Hooper said. “I used to try to hide any pain or discomfort and pretend that I still felt good. I didn’t feel that embarrassment or even that shame that I had felt before.
“Being with someone who gets it, like actually gets it, is so special,” she added.
On November 28, 2020, Mr. Balaban surprised Ms. Hooper with a proposal at Guana Tolomato Matanzas, a nature preserve in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. After a walk on the beach with their four-year-old Vizsla, Boomer, they were greeted by family and friends who were in his plan.
“My friends gave Boomer a big diamond ring to give to me,” Ms Hooper said. “That’s when Sean got down on his knees and proposed.”
The two, who live in Jacksonville Beach, tied the knot at Ponte Vedra Beach Lodge & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on March 26, their seventh anniversary of becoming a couple. Rindaanne Riccio, Mr Balaban’s college friend who was ordained as a Universal Life Church minister for the occasion, officiated before 157 guests, vaccinated or tested for Covid.
For the ceremony, Boomer served as the dog of honor. “We wanted to make him the best man, but my bridesmaid, Taylor Helms, is single and said, ‘Please don’t walk the dog on me,'” Ms Hooper said.
At a reception that followed, the couple shared a giant gluten-free cookie sandwich instead of cake, and Dippin’ Dots, a favorite ice cream snack of the bride and her father, was served. on the dance floor. Later, guests were treated to a bonfire on the beach and a taco bar.
“Everything went smoothly,” Mr. Balaban said. “And Boomer lying in the sand wagging his tail like a metronome all the time.”