Muddy matrimony: Leesburg couple ties knot at Spartan Race
But to their mutual surprise, he took her up on it. They would be married at a Spartan race in the central Virginia mountains of Wintergreen Resort – but only after they did the run together.
"I thought he'd think I was crazy," she said. "But he said, 'That's a great idea!'"
On Aug. 23, Jennifer Wardwell, 39, and Steve Fisher, 37, walked down the aisle to tie the knot. They had prepared vows and invited guests and got all dressed up for the blessed occasion – all quite ordinary.
Not quite ordinary was that their aisle measured 7.2 miles long over a mud-encrusted mountain, with pits to be jumped and walls to be climbed along the way. And the threshold was a finish line of fire.
By the end of the seven-hour, 19-minute journey together, her gleaming white dress and his bold black tuxedo both took on a uniform mud-brown, merging together in a kind of symbolism of their lives merging together.
Wardell, a native of northern Maine, and Fisher, from eastern Pennsylvania, have been the adventurous, sporting types since long before they met three years ago. He grew up playing all the standard team sports, and lately had gotten into gym workouts and challenge races. She grew up running the many trails and paths of her home state, and is no stranger to snowshoes and cross-country skis.
They kept up their activities as they, both software engineers, relocated to Northern Virginia's high-tech sector. In fact, their first date was a tough-mudder race on that same Wintergreen mountain in 2011, an event they'd individually signed up for before they'd even met.
Their new family includes Fisher's three children: Mason, age 3, and 7-year-old twins Kate and Sophie. Already, the Fishers have taken hikes and swims and kayak trips, along with some cross-fit, rock climbing and an array of team sports.
Some preliminary thought has been given to the pair's first anniversary celebration.
"After we did Wintergreen the first time, we said we wouldn't do that race again but we've done it two more times," Fisher said with a laugh. "So there's a part of me that thinks we're going to end up doing it again anyway."
His bride agreed.
"We're gonna make that a tradition: Every year we say we won't go there and we still go there."
At the Wintergreen wedding, Wardwell's multilayered gown grew heavier as the dirt caked over it, particularly on the 6-foot train that trailed behind her. That's when she got a little help from her husband and a whole lot of new friends.
"Sometimes I had to pick up the whole dress and put it over my shoulder," she said, adding that she at least had sense enough to wear sensible shoes for a mud track.
After both managed to leap across the fiery finish line – dirty and sweaty from their daylong hike in formalwear – the Fishers were surprised at being hauled up on stage so their 'I-dos' could be viewed by their fellow racers, who were not quite dressed for the occasion, but cheered heartily anyway.
The disc jockey assumed the impromptu role of emcee, announcing the proceedings to the crowd and playing "Another One Bites the Dust" at the appropriate moment.
"Everybody was very supportive, really looked out for us," Fisher said. "All these people were like, 'I wanna be there when you do this.' And they were. The response was really cool … a lot more than I'd figured."
When the couple returned to Leesburg, now as husband and wife, the wedding dress and tuxedo were dried out, unwashed and packed away, with the mud from that day preserved just like the memories. Their adventures on that first day were metaphorically off the beaten path, though in fact directly on it.
"I'd never been so nervous in my life," Wardwell said, recounting the start of the race and the start of the rest of their lives. "I'm in this huge ball gown and I grab on to the first wall and I lift myself up, and the whole crowd starts cheering for me.
"The whole rest of the day, people were high-fiving us and congratulating us and helping us. I didn't expect all that positivity for the whole race."
Though the newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Fisher did not come in first, they did go home with the grand prize.