By Ashley Kurtz, Philadelphia Ambassador

My name is Ashley and my fiancé’s name is Kiel. Kiel and I met a little over 5 years ago now, and have been on cloud 9 ever since. When we first began dating, I have to admit I learned many things that go along with someone who has sustained a spinal cord injury. Kiel broke his neck at the age of 14 while playing football, and became a C5 quadriplegic. I have had my eyes opened to a lot, and never truly realized all that goes along with someone who has an SCI. Our romance has developed and continued to grow, and the wheelchair has never truly played a part in how I feel for Kiel. We travel to many different places, and we have no boundaries when it comes to adventure. We may do it a bit different or it may take some extra planning, but it’s always a great adventure. After our first date, I was in awe of Kiel and never really “looked at the wheelchair.” Even now, 5 years later he half jokes and is half annoyed I’m sure that I “forget he’s in a wheelchair.” After over 4 years of dating, on April 28, 2018 Kiel proposed to me at a winery in front of some of our family and friends. I was being my stubborn self and didn’t see why we had to go outside to take photos, as it looked like it was going to pour any minute! We did though, and in that moment I was in shock! I couldn’t believe Kiel was “popping the question!”

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After that day, the planning began. We began to research venues that were accessible in our area. Which, was not an easy task! We come from a small town in Pennsylvania and it does not have many accessible venues that are available. The first venue we looked at was beautiful but would require Kiel to go to the basement every time he needed to go to the bathroom. We crossed it off our list! A few weeks later, we had checked out another venue. It was “the one” from the moment we walked and rolled into the place. It had an open floor concept, huge bathrooms and even the outside deck and garden was accessible. We knew instantly that this venue would hold our dream wedding, and the owner was willing to go above and beyond to ensure that we will have a perfect day. One of our next tasks was to find a church totally accessible for Kiel. Most churches have been built many years ago in our town and surrounding towns, and have steps to get into the church with no ramp access. We were recommended our current church by the wedding venue owner, and when we attended mass the first time, it was perfect! The church is covered in marble, and outlined in gold, and most importantly ALL ACCESSIBLE! Along with the “normal planning tasks” our wedding has left us with several other tasks related to accessibility, like ensuring the hotel room is accessible and finding a party bus/limo that has a lift for a power chair, finding a venue for the rehearsal dinner that’s accessible and overall making sure Kiel is 100% comfortable on the day of the wedding. One of the most important tasks to me, is to find a photographer that captures our live and who we are as a couple. I want people to look at our photos and see what I see, and not the wheelchair. Our love is unconditional and boundless, and I want the photos to portray that image. Planning our special day has been nothing short of exciting and adventurous, just the way we like it. When I asked Kiel for his thoughts on our love, his disability and how it all intertwines together he said; “I found the true love of my life who looks past the chair and truly sees me for me. We have a connection on every level that I’ve never experienced before. She genuinely brings out the best in me and has made me a better person over these past 5 years. True love isn’t impossible to find because you are disabled. Some people luck out and find it faster than others. I’ve been told you’re only allowed 3 great women in your life time. Let me tell you, my fiancé, Ashley Marie is above all one the greats.” All relationships consist of highs and lows, obstacles and different adversities. Our relationship has taught me many lessons, educated me and brought more awareness to my outlook on individuals with disabilities. Kiel’s resilience to the injury has not defined him, and I’ve fallen in love with his quirky personality, and his infectious smile. I feel so blessed and can not wait for our newest adventure in marriage for the fall of 2019! - Ashley

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