By Beth Ann Downey
For Chris Gschwendtner, Valentine's Day 2008 and Valentine's Day 2012 couldn't have been more different.
Cori Seedenburg and Chris Gschwendtner pose for an engagement photo. The couple got engaged on Valentine’s Day.
In 2008, Gschwendtner, 32, originally from Altoona and a current resident of Annapolis, Md., was deployed in Iraq with the United?States Army. On Feb. 14 that year, a vehicle he was riding in was hit with an IED. That and a later rocket attack to a building he was in left him with a mild traumatic brain injury.
But on Valentine's Day of this year, Gschwendtner was engaged to the girl of his dreams, and found out they had won an all expense-paid wedding contest.
"People usually have good memories for that day, but my memory was my vehicle getting blown up," he said. "So [winning] kind of makes up for it."
Gschwendtner first saw his fiancee, Cori Seedenburg, in a picture on the Facebook profile of a mutual friend. When Seedenburg, 25, originally of Altoona but now also living in Annapolis, saw a photo of him, email exchanges followed for two months until he returned from Iraq. They met face-to-face for the first time at a party, and describe it as a "love-at-first-sight" moment.
"We were with a bunch of friends, but I don't think anybody talked to us because we were too en-gaged in each other, talking the whole entire night," Seeden-burg said.
Gschwendtner said meeting Seedenburg really helped him with the transition from living in a war zone back to civilian life.
"You're going from getting shot at and worrying about dying and getting blown up to being able to jump in your car and go to 7-Eleven whenever you feel like it," he said. "It's just two totally different worlds."
"He's doing a whole lot better and it makes him who he is," Seedenburg added. "I appreciate everything he's done for our country and serving for us."
The couple had talked about getting married and their wedding before they were officially engaged, so they decided to enter a wedding give-away contest from a venue near Annapolis called The Bistro at South River. Entering required the couple to make a video, which they spent months shooting, editing and finalizing.
"It was a lot of fun in itself, just making the video. ... We feel it's just a great way to express yourself and kind of put into words how you feel, and put some emotion behind it," Gschwendtner said.
Seedenburg added that you can really tell that they put some time and effort into their submission - and did a few things that went above and beyond the call of duty.
"There's a beach scene that we did and we have shorts on, pretty much next to nothing," she said. "You can't tell, but it was actually about 30 degrees."
Margie Gschwendtner of Altoona, Chris' mother, said the video really showed that her son and Seedenburg were a "fun-loving couple."
"I cried, I laughed," she said of watching it. "We just knew they were going to win it."
Also incorporated into the video was the proposal, which happened when the couple was back in Altoona to celebrate Christmas in December 2011. Gschwendtner surprised Seedenburg by getting down on one knee during her family's Christmas Eve party, and enlisting her grandfather to film it.
"It was awesome, it really surprised me," she said. "For him to do it in front of my whole family, that takes a brave guy."
The time and effort spent on their contest video won them their dream wedding at The Bistro. It's valued at up to $50,000 and includes everything from the dress and wedding bands to the DJ and photo booth at the reception.
"It's pretty much a dream come true," Gschwendtner said. "Now we just have to worry about picking things out instead of how we're going to pay for them."
Their original plan was to have a small wedding at the airport where Gschwendtner now works as an aircraft mechanic. Gschwendtner said that was only because they couldn't justify making the investment.
"We just got a house, kids are in the future, so there are just so many things the money could be used better for as opposed to one day and it's over," he said. "So it's kind of like were getting to have our cake and eat it too by having the ceremony, but not having to pay all the money for the ceremony that we would want.
"It's pretty amazing. ... Cori is a great person, she's very selfless. She deserves the wedding of her dreams."
Raquel Shutt, owner and wedding planner with Wedding Savvy, the boutique wedding planning firm providing their services to Gschwendtner and Seedenburg, said the couple couldn't be more deserving of winning the contest.
"It's been a pleasure," Shutt said, adding that there's not a lot left to do, as they've already chosen the menu, linens flowers and met with the DJ. "They are just the absolute sweetest couple. ... Their ideas are really easy for me to envision and make happen."
The wedding will take place on Oct. 26, with the ceremony being held outside near pond overlooking the golf course the venue is located on. Seedenburg said it is "absolutely beautiful."
Many of the 115 wedding guests will be coming down from Blair County or Pittsburgh, the couple said - a huge jump in witnesses from the 50-guest wedding they were planning on before winning the contest.
Gschwendtner said it's hard to put into words his excitement to spend the rest of his life with Seedenburg.
"We're excited to have kids and grow old and do all that stuff, but we're just looking forward to having more adventures together," he said.
"Chris is definitely my best friend and I feel luck to have him," Seedenburg added. "Every day just keeps getting better and better."
To follow the couple through the wedding planning process, follow Raquel Shutt's blog at www.bistroultimatewedding.com
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.