Cori Seedenburg & Chris Gschwendtner (Hamilton Photography )
Her story: Cori Seedenburg, 25, grew up in Altoona, Penn., and now lives in Annapolis. She is a radiation therapist at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Her mother, Kim Shirley, is a salesperson at Ford Courtesy in Altoona and her stepfather, Peter Shirley, is a computer consultant in Altoona.
His story: Chris Gschwendtner, 32, grew up in Altoona, Penn., and now lives in Annapolis. He is an aircraft mechanic at Chesapeake Sport Pilot. His father, Michael Gschwendtner, is a retired Navy master chief in the Altoona area. His mother, Margaret Gschwendtner, is a homemaker and part-time child caregiver in the Altoona area.
Their story: Even though Cori and Chris grew up in the same area, they never knew each other.
After college, the events of 9/11 led Chris to enlist in the U.S. Army infantry. He was deployed to Iraq, where — twice in 15 months — he experienced hits from improvised explosive devices. First, his vehicle was hit by an IED on Feb. 14, 2008. Less than five weeks later, an IED hit the shower he was in.
"I [received] a mild traumatic brain injury," he says. "It was a pretty good concussion. Two times I got my bell rung pretty good." .
It was October, 2008. Chris was now back in the States, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he came across a photo of Cori on a mutual friend's Facebook page.
"My best friend, Erin Cogan, told me her husband had a friend who saw my picture and was asking who I was," says Cori. "But, I was finishing up my last year in college and didn't want to get involved with anyone." Then, she decided to check Chris out on Facebook.
"When I saw his picture that changed everything," she says with a laugh. An intense email exchange followed. But, an actual face-to-face meeting didn't happen until Dec. 26, 2008, when Chris came home on leave, and the two met at a gathering of friends.
"It felt like everyone else disappeared and it was just Chris and I that night," says Cori. "We talked, laughed and knew that we had something special, and we did."
"There were sparks, fireworks. I definitely knew this was somebody I wanted to know better," says Chris.
They saw each other every day that week.
Chris went back to Fort Riley to finish his last month of military service. When it ended, Chris didn't waste any time.
"I had a 16-hour drive ahead of me and I wasn't going to stop until I could get home and see Cori," he says.
He drove the entire way, only stopping for gas and snacks.
"It was about 20 hours of traveling," he says. "When I got home, there was a snowstorm." .
"We've pretty much spent every day together since," says Cori.
When Cori finished school and was offered the job at AAMC, the couple decided to move to Annapolis.
After two more years of going to different Army schools in his attempt to become an Army pilot, Chris was denied the chance. So, he did the next best thing, going to flight school on his own, eventually getting his pilot's license and his job at the school in Annapolis.
"Cori is the most caring and genuine person I know, " he says. "She would give you the shirt off her back. You can tell by her profession. She works with cancer patients. She goes above and beyond for other people. She supports me. Not many other people would support someone who spent two years jumping through hoops to [pursue] their dream."
"Chris is truly my best friend," says Cori. "I trust him. He's strong about everything. He helps me out with everything. I have so much fun with him. I can be silly around him. I'm so proud of him and everything he's done. He's served our country. He's a good guy and he has a huge heart."
The proposal, Christmas Eve, 2011: The couple knew they would be getting married. They started talking about it during the summer of 2011. But they also knew they wanted to buy a house. So, they figured they would be doing a small, simple affair on a small budget. Then, a friend of theirs told them about a contest she had seen advertised on television.
South River Golf Club had just renovated its clubhouse and The Bistro restaurant and was holding "The Ultimate Wedding Give-Away," in which couples were encouraged to submit videos showing how much fun they were. The winning couple would receive a wedding — complete with the goods and services from a number of area vendors — worth up to $50,000 at The Bistro.
Cori and Chris got to work — using old photos and shooting at various locations around Annapolis — creating their video.
"We gathered up all the videos and pictures that we had and put together something," says Cori. "With him in the military and me in the nursing, we re-enacted the soldier kissing the nurse in Times Square on V-Day...We went around Annapolis holding signs saying. 'Take us to The Bistro.' We had it on Facebook. It was amazing how many people logged onto The Bistro's website and commented on the video; something like 600...people we don't even know."