ATLANTA – At first glance, the wedding photos capturing the tender moment of Jaquie and Andy Goncher embracing in a reception hall during their first dance appear perfectly normal.
But the story behind those viral images is what caught the internet’s attention.
When Goncher was 17, she suffered from a tragic swimming pool accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down.
“I can remember floating face down, and I thought I was going to die,” Goncher, now 25, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Marietta-native said the doctors told her mom that the chances of her daughter walking again were “too small to put a number on it.” She went from being a physically active high schooler who enjoyed playing fast-pitch softball to being wheelchair bound.
But Goncher refused to let a wheelchair slow her down.
She met her 35-year-old husband, Andy Goncher, through an online dating app called Let’s Date and fell in love
After getting engaged, Goncher was determined to walk down the aisle and dance her first dance on her wedding day. However, her low blood pressure made it physically impossible for her to stand for more than 30 minutes at a time, she said.
It seemed unlikely the soon-to-be bride could build enough strength and endurance to spend the day without her wheelchair.
Nevertheless, Goncher worked alongside physical therapists, spent hours at the gym on a treadmill and worked her core in preparation for her wedding day.
“It was more than physically hard because I was an athlete…I knew how I should be working out,” Goncher said, “And to do it halfway was emotional.”
Goncher had another dream, too.
The full-time photographer always appreciated Maggie Smith Kuhn’s live portraits, but she knew she couldn’t afford to hire Kuhn for her wedding.
Goncher’s mother, who saw Kuhn’s paintings over social media, called the live painter and hired her to capture the wedding.
On the day of the wedding, only a few of Goncher’s closest friends knew she wanted to walk down the aisle – it was meant to be a surprise for everyone else.
“I was so nervous,” Goncher said. “(Those) entire moments leading up to it, I thought I was going to throw up.”
With her eyes glued to the ground out of anxiousness, Goncher made her way down the aisle.
“It was like a movie,” Kuhn said, who stood in the crowd unnoticed by Goncher. “Everyone was shocked in the best way.”
But it was soon Goncher’s turn to be surprised.
“My mom was like ‘I have surprise for you,’” Goncher said. When Goncher saw Kuhn, she immediately buried her face in her cream-colored wedding dress and cried.
“It was the one thing I really wanted,” she said.
While Goncher danced her first dance with the help of her husband, Kuhn stood off to the side and painted the moment in a water colored portrait. The painter’s photos of the painting along with the wedding photos went viral on Reddit.
Kuhn said the joy and intensity within the room inspired her to paint the real-life portrait. The artist also made sure to include Goncher’s five pets in the painting, since the couple’s cats and dogs were family as well.
“After the wedding, we sat there and were like ‘I can’t believe we danced the entire wedding’ – it felt normal,” Goncher explained. “A lot of the times I’m in the wheelchair, so I can’t interact with people… I felt normal for once.”
Right now, Goncher’s husband is building a frame for the new painting that they’re planning on hanging in their living room.
“I just felt blessed,” Goncher said. “I’ve been walking through journey of healing for eight years… I had to put my faith in God – it reminded me of how far I have come.”
[This story was written by Marin Guta]