“I wouldn’t change my journey for anything.”
In 2015, when Jessica Wood was leaving Saratoga for Ithaca, her family friend said she should give Brant Gawrys a call when she got there – but she didn’t.
Instead, Jess and Brant met when she was working as an Athletic Trainer at Cornell University. Brant also worked in the athletic department and two weeks later, they had their first date.
“We had an immediate connection,” said Jess.
A Beyond Bumpy Beginning
During the first six months of their relationship, Brant was experiencing headaches and neck pain that kept getting progressively worse.
Finally, it was discovered that Brant had a brain tumor.
“It was an emotional roller coaster but it strengthened our relationship. At the time I asked the question, ‘Why did this have to happen?’ Our relationship was so young, and I was just getting to know him. When you have this huge obstacle occur, you really see someone as their true self,” said Jess.
Further Down the Road
After several trips back and forth to Pittsburgh, Brant’s brain tumor was removed. A couple of months of recovery time followed.
“There were super big ups and downs. I just wanted him to be healthy.” said Jess.
About a year later, Jessica started experiencing bouts of fatigue. Chalking it up to stress and working too much, she later learned a rare heart condition she’d had since birth, Tetralogy of Fallot, had impacted her heart valves to the point that in March 2017, she had to have open heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.
It was Brant’s attentive care that gave Jess time to heal.
“He totally did anything and everything so I could recover,” said Jess.
Once she did, the couple moved to Rhode Island so Jess could pursue a degree from Johnson and Wales University to become a physician’s assistant.
An Intimate Engagement
In the summer of 2018, during a whirlwind camping trip to Zion National Park, Brant and Jess traversed the awe-inspiring Angel’s Landing rocks before walking onto the Western Trail.
Jess turned toward the canyon for a picture and when she turned back around, there was Brant, on bended knee with a custom platinum and diamond ring in his hand.
“I remember being completely surprised. He was so cute. It was utterly perfect because it was just me and him, in one of my favorite places on earth,” said Jess.
Their engagement began with a romantic glamping excursion under the stars.
Navigating the Unexpected
Brant and Jess planned to have a secret garden-themed wedding on June 20th, 2020 in the open-air pavilion of the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, but news of the pandemic changed everything.
“We made a list of the first three reasons why we were getting married and what mattered most to us. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Brant and that’s what it was all about for us,” said Jess.
They decided to keep their original date but to have an intimate backyard ceremony followed by a 25-person reception in Saratoga.
“I could not have done with it without family. Essentially, we put it together in a month.”
The wedding shower, bachelorette, and bachelor parties were cancelled. Jess had already purchased a lacy open-back dress with cap sleeves and found a local tailor to make the alterations. Her aunt, Lisa Kerby, gifted her embroidered white masks for the ladies and the men wore blue masks to match their suits.
Outdoor chairs were set up in Brant’s grandmothers backyard, in Ballston Spa. An archway was built, and an isle was made from white rocks collected during a previous trip to Cape Cod.
After the ceremony, which was officiated by Brant’s Uncle Benny, Jess and Brant left for the reception and were surprised to see Brant’s family lining both sides of the street to wish them well while staying socially distant.
“I was sobbing, I was so excited, it was so good to see everyone,” said Jess.
Let Love Grow
At the reception, antique mirrors, lettered by Jess’ sister, Emily Wood, and placed on her grandmother’s painting easel, welcomed guests. Place settings were made from lettered leaves pinned to cloth napkins. There was a symbolic planting of a Calamondin tree and packets of seeds given out as favors with the message, “Let Love Grow.”
After the reception, Brant and Jessica rode off in a loaned Camaro to spend their wedding night at The Springwater Bed and Breakfast on George Street.
“They were incredible. It was safe, clean and they served an amazing breakfast,” said Jess.
Today, Jessica is left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the experience, and especially for Brant’s mother, Linda.
“I couldn’t be more incredibly grateful to have family come together during the pandemic, for Linda’s help with everything and for hosting when everything was getting cancelled and we were so isolated. With everything that we’ve been through, to be able to move forward, be optimistic, and be able to start our life together - that’s what we were aiming for.”
Brant and I grew up in towns next to one another, Brant in Ballston Spa and myself in Saratoga Springs. We never met in high school, even when I worked with his little sister one summer. A mutual family friend had given me Brant's contact information when she found out I was moving to Ithaca for graduate school, but I chickened out and never called him. We finally met when I was contracted to work an athletic event at Cornell University. Needless to say, on our first date, the server came over about 5 times before we knew what we wanted to eat because we had so much in common.
About a year into dating, Brant was diagnosed with a Chordoma and required brain surgery to remove the tumor. His surgery went really well and he continues to have healthy scans every year. Much to both our surprise after having overcome this obstacle, I required open heart surgery the following year to repair a poorly working valve, a complication of Tetralogy of Fallot that I was born with. Our relationship went through many tests during these years and our love for one another only grew. Brant and I moved to Providence, RI where we both still live today so that I could go to PA school.
We planned a whirlwind camping tour of several National parks during my two week break during graduate school. Brant knocked his proposal out of the park by getting down on one knee at the top the West Rim trail in Zion National Park. I was completely surprised and couldn't have been more excited that it happened at my favorite place on earth.
We had originally planned to get married in Ithaca, but when Covid19 hit, our plans were derailed. We had set a date 2 years after our engagement because I wanted to complete my graduate degree and have time to save for our wedding. After surveying all the information we had in May of 2020, we had a feeling the pandemic was going to be around for awhile and we didn't want to wait any longer to get married! What was important was our love for one another. Thankfully our family was supportive and quickly put their heads together to make it happen. We had the ceremony in his Grandma's backyard on Columbia Ave and walked down the street to have dinner under a family owned tent in his parent's backyard. I couldn't be more grateful for our family and friends who came together to give us a phenomenal wedding. Due to the safety restrictions at the time we kept our guests to just immediate family and our wedding party. This was hard for us because our original objective was to spend our wedding with all our family and friends. However, I was brought to tears when Brant's extended family surprised us by lining the street to wave hello as we walked from the ceremony to our reception. We couldn't have had a better day and look forward to when we can celebrate with all of our family and friends.
wedding date : June 20th, 2020
ceremony location: Columbia Ave, Ballston Spa
reception location: Hyde Blvd, Ballston Spa - Backyard Wedding
photographer: Zak Westbrook
event decorator : The bride, Jess
wedding gownn: BHLDN
bridesmaids' dresses: Azazie
tuxedo and groomsmen clothing: Franklin Rogers Ltd
rings: The Jewelbox
flowers: Balet Flowers and Design
wedding planner: Family
hair: Meghan Flewwelling
caterer: The Brickyard
caterer: Jennifer Cline
dj: Playlist from Spotify and Kate
first dance "Our Love" by Gary Clark Jr.
micsellanious: Handmade center pieces and thank you's - my mom and sister were super helpful pulling together these last minute to-do's.
Linda and Jeff Gawrys who served all of our guests to limit contact and keep us all safe!
special touches... Linda Gawrys, Mother of the Groom baked her famous chocolate chip cookies, and my family friend Alice sent her renowned chocolate covered strawberries.
We stayed at The Springwater Inn, which was absolutely incredible. The DiCarlo's had great protocols to keep the guests safe and comfortable. Our room was beautiful, clean, and spaceious. This was super important given we were traveling and getting married in a pandemic
advice to pass along... Always remember what is most important to you. What is your ultimate goal, not just for the wedding but for your life with your significant other? And be optimistic. While we had to make some sacrifices, I got to marry my best friend in the middle of a pandemic!! I will always remember my first dance, walking down the street waving to everyone who had come out to celebrate us and being pleasantly surprised by the advantages of a small intimate wedding.