In a profession where plotting the future is fundamental, picking a big day can be an especially big headache.
This story appears in the FUTURE ISSUE, the Nov. 19–26, 2018, edition of Sports Illustrated.
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Arina Rodionova and Ty Vickery were in love. That they knew. If only getting married were so simple. As a pro tennis player, Rodionova, 28, competed around the globe from December through October. The 28-year-old Vickery, meanwhile, reported to camp with his Australian Rules Football team, the Richmond Tigers, each November. That hardly left time to tie the knot, to say nothing of a honeymoon.
But the two were used to a relationship governed by their games. Vickery had waited to introduce himself to Rodionova until she was coming off a victory in 2012, and he'd timed his wedding proposal to the Kremlin Cup, when she would be back in her native Russia. Later, when it came time to pick a date, they realized that the week before Christmas in Melbourne would work ... kind of. Vickery would have to get the O.K. to leave camp, and Rodionova would need to withdraw from Australian Open wild-card qualifiers if she hadn't already been eliminated when Dec. 19, 2015, rolled around.
Honestly, Vickery never expected his fiancée to bail on her game, so when she did reach the qualifying semis, which fell on their big day, he wasn't surprised that she wanted to play. She would wake up at 6 a.m., have one glass of champagne before heading to the court, then wear long sleeves in 97º heat to avoid tan lines. (She won.) And though she was a tad late to the afternoon ceremony, Vickery understood. Even on the one day you'll never forget, the game still comes first.
Athletes love the cliché about taking it one day at a time, but their occupation actually requires a constant focus on the future. Sleep is tightly mapped out, meals can be predicted weeks ahead, and each bench press fits into a schema stretching into the beyond. Competitors obsess over details so they can be comfortable with chaos. Come to think of it, maybe all-stars would make good wedding planners (even if they do make difficult clients). With such tightly regimented schedules, how hard could it be to carve out one day to tie the knot?
Impossible, it often turns out. Tiffany Cook left the fickle world of concert management for high-end wedding planning 15 years ago, only to find her new line of work much more complicated. Today she serves mainly NFL players, but she refuses to take on more than 10 a year. Potential free agents, like Cowboys D-end DeMarcus Lawrence, present the most trouble, she says, because they tend to want a date after their futures are decided in the spring, and they don't know their May/June calendars early enough to claim those prime months. Cook books venue visits into bye weeks, reschedules tastings based on playoff scenarios and alters guest lists after unforeseen trades. She'll even plan two ceremonies at different prices for athletes who don't know how big their next contract might be. There are, she says, "a lot of challenges."
For hockey players, part of the struggle comes in coordinating with teammates: With 700-plus active skaters and just a 12-week offseason—almost all in the wedding-friendly summer months—a prime date can induce a bit of a scrum. Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, for example, ended up having to share his special day with teammate Jesper Fast this summer: Part of the squad celebrated Shattenkirk in Long Island while another unit joined Fast in Greece.
MLB's February-to-October grind presents its own difficulties. Want a warm wedding in the Northern Hemisphere? You'll have to take some risks, as Justin Verlander and Kate Upton did in scheduling their union for Nov. 4 in Italy last year. As long as Verlander wasn't playing in a World Series Game 7, the timing would work fine ... but, of course, the couple ended up missing part of their destination event, with guests texting to say, "Wish you were here!"
Then there's soccer, with its dual demands of club and country creating year-round calendar havoc. As he rose through the Premier League ranks and landed a spot on England's national team, striker Jamie Vardy postponed his wedding three times before settling for a Wednesday. Elsewhere, a surprise run by Wales in the 2016 Euro forced midfielder Joe Ledley to push back his own nuptials, and defender Chris Gunter Skyped in to make a speech at his brother's ceremony.
Things worked out a bit more smoothly for Rodionova, who savored a postvictory ice bath and then rushed to a makeup appointment. The only competition on anyone's mind the night of her nuptials was a drinking battle between European tennis players and Australian footballers. And in the end, she got the ultimate wedding gift: "I had half a day for the first time in my life when I didn't care about tennis."