He falls for her, his dream girl - in more ways than one

February 05, 2007|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

People do crazy things for love, and what Chuck Nibbana did to win the heart of Kelsi Stembel might qualify: He dressed up as a knight in shining armor, jumped on a white stallion and promptly ended up in the emergency room.

We'll get into all that in a minute, including the stuff about Nibbana's concussion and whether you can get an injured knight in chain mail into an ambulance.

Think of this as an early Valentine's Day column.

But first, as they say in Hollywood, the back story:

It's Christmas Eve 2005. Chuck Nibanna, 32, of Owings Mills is lonely. He's looking for love. A worker in the telecommunications industry, he's tried dating services, Internet matchup sites, you name it.

But the man is desperate, too. So that day, he renews his subscription to eHarmony, the online service that claims to match singles based on "29 key dimensions of compatibility."

He quickly receives his first new matches, including one from a "Kelsi." The two hit it off, e-mail-wise. Two weeks later, a first date is planned. Kelsi is 28, a single mom with a young daughter. She's a school teacher in Montgomery County and will drive up from Silver Spring for their first meeting.

Nibbana is cool. But anxiety levels on Stembel's part are at Defcon 4.

On the night of the date, Stembel shows up at Nibbana's place. Nibbana gets one look at her and promptly goes ga-ga.

Cupid doesn't just hit him with an arrow. Cupid hits him with a right hook that would floor a mule.

"I was awestruck," Nibbana says.

OK, now you're starting to see what Nibbana is like. How many guys use the word "awestruck" to describe a first date?

Things get even better from there. They go to an Italian restaurant and have a great time. After that, they decide they want to go ice-skating. But they get to the rink and it's closed for hockey lessons.

So they drive around and talk for awhile, then go back to his place and watch Wedding Crashers and talk some more. They talk until 4 in the morning.

Love is in the air. A whirlwind romance follows.

How much of a whirlwind? This much: Within a few weeks, Nibbana is ready to pop the question.

And the question sure isn't: What did you think of Wedding Crashers?

OK, now we're getting to the really good part.

"Once I realized she was the perfect girl, I wanted everything to be perfect," Nibbana says.

So being the incurable romantic that he is, he decides he wants to propose to Stembel in a unique way.

He decides to dress up as a knight in shining armor and ride a white stallion, from which he'll dismount gracefully and get down on bended knee.

To prepare, he even starts taking riding lessons at the Columbia Horse Center in Laurel.

"All I want to do is get on a horse, go a couple hundred feet, then stop and get off," Nibbana says. "Which seemed simple enough."

OK, now it's the big day, Feb. 7. He rents a silver knight costume. He drives to the horse center.

He calls Stembel and tells her his car is broken down on the side of the road in Laurel. He asks if she can come get him and gives her directions to what is really the stable.

Then he gets on the white stallion for a final run-through.

Which is when things sort of fall apart.

No, check that.

Things don't "sort of" fall apart. They fall apart like they were blown up by dynamite.

The stallion spooks and takes off at a gallop. Nibbana can't hold on. He's thrown into a cement barrier. He gets a concussion and a huge gash in his ear.

An ambulance arrives.

And just then, who else shows up but - ta-daa! - Stembel.

"I see him surrounded by all these medical people," she recalls. "And he's white as a ghost."

Stembel quickly figures out what's happened, that this is some sort of crazy marriage proposal gone awry. Maybe the fact that Nibbana's still wearing the bottom half of the knight costume is a tip-off.

She rides in the ambulance with him to Howard County General Hospital. He's only semi-coherent and keeps moaning: "This isn't the way it was supposed to happen. ..."

At the emergency room, Stembel tries to comfort him by saying he can do the knight-on-horseback proposal another time.

But Nibbana is coming out of his haze. And he has the engagement ring in his jeans pocket, under the knight get-up. And he's not about to wait any longer.

So he props himself up in his hospital bed. And in front of cheering doctors, nurses and patients, Nibbana proposes.

Stembel says yes.

Awwww. Is that a love story for the ages, or what?

And it only got better for Nibbana and Stembel after that.

A few months later, they were married on the beach in Oxford, on the Eastern Shore. And now Stembel's due to deliver their first child in April.

Tell me something: How can you not cheer a story like that?

Boy meets girl, boy falls off horse, boy gets girl.

Is this a great country, or what?

Kevin.Cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd

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