Runaway Bride

 In Culture, Feature

Olympic track star Dawn Harper finds everlasting love with her junior-high rival.


The Bride
Dawn Harper
29, professional track athlete

The Groom
Alonzo Nelson, Jr.
28, teacher

Their Story

Dawn Harper and Alonzo Nelson first set eyes on each other at a junior high school track meet. Dawn was the only girl running the 100-meter hurdles, and, much to her dismay, Alonzo was the only boy to beat her. The two athletes ended up going to the same high school and became close friends even as they dated other people and traveled to opposite coasts for college—Dawn to UCLA, Alonzo to Hampton University in Virginia. After winning an Olympic gold medal in 2008 (in the same event that Alonzo had beat her in years before), Dawn returned to St. Louis to celebrate in her hometown. She tweeted about her homecoming, and Alonzo got in touch to request that she speak at the school where he was teaching. When she did, they both realized their story wasn’t over. They spent the next day together catching up, and atop the City Museum at the end of the night, they had what Dawn describes as a perfect first-date ending—complete with a “this is it” moment.

Throughout their courtship, Dawn bragged to Alonzo that when he proposed, she would figure it out—they even placed a bet on it—so Alonzo knew he had to get creative. He put together a photo book with pictures from their trips all over the world, Olympic events, sports games and an extra-special question posed at the end. When Dawn opened her gift on Christmas Eve, she loved looking through the pages of memories; on the last one, she found the words: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore, Dawn Harper. Will you marry me?” As she looked up, she found Alonzo on one knee with a ring. She said yes, and even put the ring on herself—Alonzo admits that if he had let go of her hand at that moment, he’d have fallen over.

Yes to the Dress

Dawn shopped dress boutiques all over St. Louis looking for the perfect gown, but it wasn’t easy. Friends and family were pushing for a tight-fitting mermaid gown to complement her great figure, but she was looking for something with a little more of a “wow” factor. Dawn’s agent arranged for her to visit Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City and appear on the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress.” Despite her trials in St. Louis, the first gown she tried on at the shop was a mermaid style; the second dress was more dramatic and full, but it still didn’t do it for her. When they brought her a third choice, however, she knew it was hers before she even tried it on. With a sweetheart neck, fit and flared with a beaded belt and floral accents, it was everything she wanted.

All Tied Up

The groom’s affinity for bow ties was no secret—leading up to the wedding, he posted a “Month of Bow ties,” featuring a different bow-tied ensemble every day to signify that he was ready to “tie the knot.” For an entirely different kind of knot, Nike made Dawn a custom pair of purple tennis shoes with the couple’s nickname, “Adawnzo,” printed on the sides. Although they weren’t easily visible under her full gown, they kept the bride’s feet happy and comfortable throughout the entire day.

Everlasting Love

Dawn and Alonzo decorated the Ameristar Resort, their venue for both the ceremony and reception, with both romance and fun in mind. The space was decked out in shades of purple and silver, and filled with gorgeous displays of white roses and orchids. As much as Dawn loved the flower arrangements for the event space, she decided to go a different direction with her own bouquet. She spotted a photo of a bouquet of brooches, and tracked one down for herself on Etsy. Though she later found it was a lot heavier than it looked, it was well worth it—the bouquet now sits in a Tiffany vase as an everlasting reminder of that special day. To complement his bride’s bouquet, Alonzo also sported a brooch accessory of his own: a captain’s badge that once belonged to his grandfather.

À La Carte

The couple wanted guests to mingle at the reception rather than be stuck at tables, so they opted for fun, server-passed fare like Philly cheesesteak sliders, bacon-wrapped shrimp and Southwest chicken burritos. The cake combined layers of red velvet, vanilla bean with champagne filling and yellow cake with chocolate filling, and was garnished with purple flowers.

Love song

When they were apart during their courtship, Alonzo made a habit of singing all the right songs in all the right moments for Dawn. So when it came time for them to choose a tune for their first dance, they simply couldn’t narrow it down to one. Instead, they combined two of their favorites, “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop” by Landon Pigg and “Addiction” by Ryan Leslie. Because Dawn was away from St. Louis in the weeks leading up to the wedding, the couple didn’t have time to prepare for the first dance—but they free-styled so well that people thought they’d snuck in a lesson or two. They weren’t the only ones to make the most of the dance floor—by the end of the night, no one was left sitting.









Photo credit: Lance Omar Thurman Photography

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