SALT LAKE CITY — Sifting through engagement photos, Blaine Whipple points to his favorite.
A lens peeking through tree branches captured him and his fiancée, hands clasped, as he gazes down at her.
Seven years ago, Sandra Anderson, 26, wouldn't have believed Whipple, 23, would be sitting next to her, his hand resting tenderly on her leg, each anticipating their May 10th wedding.
She didn't believe she could be loved.
On Dec. 23, 2006, Anderson lay in the snow, drifting in and out of consciousness. A sledding accident left her neck broken and her arms and legs paralyzed. Since then, she has regained much of the mobility in her arms, shoulders, head and neck, despite predictions by doctors who said she wouldn't have much movement at all.
"I'm not the same anymore, like physically," she said. "So it's hard for me to think that someone would care for me, and love me in the state that I am now."
Whipple's mother didn't want her son to be the only kindergartner unable to tie his shoes, so she pulled him on her lap and with a string around her thigh tried to teach him to tie a shoe with one hand. She showed him several techniques to no avail.
"I grabbed the shoelace, and I just did something completely different than anything she had tried to come up with, and it worked," Whipple said.
Born at 10 lbs. 11 oz., all the nerves in Whipple's right shoulder were torn leaving no neurological connection or movement in his arm.
After grafting nerve tissue from his leg to his shoulder and years of physical therapy, Whipple can use his arm, though it remains underdeveloped and has limited dexterity.
"I think just the way my mind works, I always just knew I could do whatever I wanted to do," he said.
Finding each other
Even now, Anderson sometimes asks herself if her love story is real. She said she was apprehensive about getting into a relationship. She was nervous about getting hurt.
"He's good at calming me down" she said. "I need to throw those fears out the window and know that in the end there is going to be a great reward."
The fear Whipple has is different.
"I've never had a fear that I would find someone, but I've always had a fear that I might not be able to be everything that they need," he said.
He may be able to clip his own nails, and play volleyball or the French horn, but cuff links are another story.
"I'm not the big macho man that they're looking for, but that's OK. I don't really have that fear anymore."
Whipple said he and Anderson couldn't be more different. "Just name one thing, and we're on opposite ends of the spectrum."
Despite their differences, Whipple said everything felt different with Anderson just weeks after they began dating. After one month, he knew they would be married.
"It's just really relaxing, really helpful talking to Sandra," he said. "I just feel like we became close a lot quicker than most friends that I made in the past."
"He's one of the very few that has been able to kind of break down those walls in such a short period of time," she said.
Whipple acknowledged that their life as a couple will be limited in some ways.
"There's things I can't do that I need her help with. There's things that I don't understand or I can't wrap my head around. But her insight helps me with that."
"There is a lot that I need help with, you know, just physically with things around the house," Anderson said. "I know at times Blaine will have to help me. So I worry about that. I worry about like how that's going to be or like, does he know what he's getting into? But he reassures me time and time again."
Overcoming their unique challenges has brought the couple a deeper connection. Together, they're whole.
"When (people) are getting ready to be married the 'I' becomes 'we,'" Whipple said. "There's all these things that we're going to be doing for each other, there's these things that we know that maybe we can't handle by ourselves we need the other person to help us and in the same way they need us. But I feel like we've kind of had that the whole time we've been dating anyways."
Thomas Kearl, the bishop in their singles ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described the relationship as something beautiful.
"From my experience with them together, their love is real and it's true and it's eternal," Kearl said.
"They're just good people who found each other, and they're really in love so they're going to be happy for a long time."
Shay Nixon, a friend of Anderson, has known her for years as a strong, independent, happy person.
"They're so in love and it's so, it's so sweet to see how he treats her," Nixon said. "They're so good for each other. They bring out the best in each other."
Nixon said Whipple has Anderson's back, and she has his.
"It's not because she needs it, it's because he wants to, he loves her. It's her best friend."
In second grade it was Taylor Gamble, not Whipple, who was unable to tie his shoes. Whipple came to the rescue, and the two have been best friends since. Gamble said Whipple is always thinking of others and putting them first.
"(Blaine and Sandra) may look like an odd couple, but you know, when it comes down to you're sitting there you're talking to them, it's just like talking to anybody else."
Fear is just fear of the future, the unknown, according to Whipple.
"It's just human nature," he said. "The fact that it's unknown means that it's out of your control."
But he has confidence in his future life with Anderson.
"You don't know what's going to happen in the future, and so you can't really prepare for it other than just to make the best decisions that you can with the situation that you're in in the moment," he said. "And that's why most of my fear is gone at this point."
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