Planning a wedding is a challenge in and of itself, but planning a wedding while also learning how to walk again is on a whole other level. Jaquie Goncher suffered a spinal cord injury at 17 when she dove headfirst into a friend’s swimming pool and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. Her C5 vertebrae completely shattered and she also fractured C1 and C2. Her surgeon told her she would never be able to walk again, but she proved him wrong when she flicked her right big toe for the first time only one month after surgery.
Eight years later on her wedding day, Jaquie completely surprised everyone in the room by leaving her wheelchair at one end of the aisle and walking to her now-husband at the other end of the aisle. The incredible images were captured by Love Stories by Halie + Alec.
Her incredible recovery wasn’t without its challenges. Jaquie would get discouraged easily, which made it hard to continue.
“I would go to the gym and get so frustrated that I wouldn’t go back,” Jaquie told Cosmopolitan. “I was trying to make myself do it but I kept failing at it and then I would be disgusted with myself. But I finally said, ‘You have to do this. You’re not going to magically get better.'”
A year before her wedding, Jaquie decided to focus all her efforts on regaining the strength enough to be able to walk and stand during the entirety of her wedding. It was tough at first, but she somehow found the strength to keep pushing herself.
“The first time I decided to go back to the gym, I got on a stationary bike,” Jaquie said. “You had to have your legs going a certain speed for the machine to stay on, but my legs wouldn’t be able to push it fast enough and the machine would turn off. I got so upset that I put my head down on the machine and I just started to cry. I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ I prayed and God said, ‘You put in the effort and I will meet you there.’ So I just kept pedaling. When the machine would go off, I would laugh and pedal again. It was hard at first but after I got past that first little bump, everything else was a lot easier.”
As time went on, Jaquie got stronger. She spent hours in the gym and in physical therapy and it all paid off on the day of her wedding. Jaquie was not only able to walk down the aisle but also stand for the entire 4 1/2 hour wedding, from ceremony to reception.
“I was completely shocked that I was standing that long,” she told Buzzfeed. “I think I was just too happy to notice if it was difficult or not. All I can remember is having the time of my life!”
None of the guests at her wedding knew she would be walking down the aisle. Jaquie had been using a wheelchair for eight years, so when she stood up and held onto her mother and grandfather as she made her way down the aisle, her guests were in total and complete shock.
“There were tears everywhere,” she said.
Her husband knew she would be walking down the aisle, but he was still overwhelmed with emotion and excitement that she was able to stand for the entirety of their wedding.
“Walking down the aisle felt like a dream. I felt accomplished and just so grateful and thankful,” she said, adding, “I honestly didn’t see Andy because I was too nervous and excited so I stared at the ground almost the entire time. Whoops.”
Jaquie’s motivation to accomplish this major hurdle was something I’m sure all brides (and any girl who dreams about her own special day) can attest to feeling: she wanted to look good for her wedding.
“On your wedding day, everybody’s looking at you, so you want to feel the most beautiful. By no means can you not be beautiful in a wheelchair. I totally believe you can be bomb in a wheelchair, but I didn’t want to be defined by that. I wanted to be normal again. Your wedding day is something you dream of from when you’re a little girl. I didn’t want my chair to be in the way of that picture I had in my head. I didn’t want to plan my wedding around my disability.”
Jaquie’s wedding “overwhelmingly perfect,” she says, and it’s all because of her hard work and incredible ability to overcome her battles. The next time you complain about being too tired to go to the gym or walk ten feet from the couch to the fridge, think about Jaquie and her inspiring story and get going. .
Images via Love Stories By Halie + Alec