When George Lewis and Amy Celphane matched on Tinder in the United Kingdom in 2018, they expected to share a short moment before separate nights out in Bristol.
“We said that we were going to just meet for a pint … and then one pint turned into five,” Lewis said.
Five pints turned into five years of dating, with a two-bedroom flat in South Wales and a cat. On Saturday, the couple took another leap of faith together as one of 26 couples wed at the Wrigley Building in a morning of marathoner marriage en masse.
Almost 300 people applied the first year, many of whom had lost their wedding venues due to COVID-19, said organizer Bradley Borowiec, vice president of Zeller, the building’s management firm.
Weddings at the Michigan Avenue landmark have been taking place for three years. During the first year in 2021, 50 couples were married beneath the Wrigley Building arch to celebrate the building’s 100-year anniversary.
This year, close to 200 couples applied to “dash to the altar,” with a catch — at least half of each pair had to be registered to run the Chicago Marathon.
Kanetha Lyke and Brian Stevenson, one of the first couples to get married Saturday, ended their first date at the Wrigley Building three years ago. Lyke, who had been widowed eight years prior, said she fell hard for Stevenson after a friend urged her to check out his eHarmony profile.
“I put all these crazy parameters, like he needs to be six feet tall,” Lyke said. “So when Brian appeared I was, like wait a minute, he’s not six feet tall. How did he get in my inbox?”
Lyke is the runner in the pair, with support from Stevenson. After 17 years of running casually, Lyke started racing in the last two years to inspire her clients as a health and wellness coach.
“I’m not nervous (for Sunday),” Lyke said. “I was telling Bryan it’s more of a mental thing…I remember each mile where I get tired, so it’s more of a mental game. I know I’m physically fit.”
The Chicago autumn chill was in full force Saturday, and while few couples bundled up for the weather, some branched out from tuxedos and white gowns. At noon, a bride in a black cocktail dress shared the aisle with a couple in traditional Thai wedding outfits, paired with calf-length Nike socks.
The iconic Magnificent Mile skyscraper is not usually a bookable wedding venue. Each couple is allowed to bring up to two witnesses, plus their own children.
“They don’t need witnesses because they have the city of Chicago to celebrate them and to cheer them on,” Borowiec said.
Couples traveled from Thailand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Mexico to wed. While couples had to pay for their own travel, some won honeymoon packages from Magnificent Mile hotels.
Lewis and Celphane were not engaged when they learned they had won a wedding at Wrigley.
“We’ve got a mortgage and that kind of stuff, I’ve got a cat, so we talked about it but neither of us were really fussed on having a huge wedding,” Celphane said. “We took a day off, went to the mall and were like, ‘OK, rings, suit, dress, shoes.’”
As a string quartet played stripped-down pop hits, from Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” to Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” four couples at a time made their way down crepe paper aisles festooned with white orchids.
A second quartet—volunteer Cook County circuit judges—presided over four clear podiums at the end of the aisles, guiding the 26 winning couples through intimate 15-minute vows. Volunteers from the Cook County sheriff’s office were also on hand.
Most established judges volunteer at weddings about once a year, said associate circuit judge Melissa Durkin, who has been closely involved in the event all three years.
“It’s such an honor to participate in one of the city’s most idyllic settings, and one of the most unique opportunities as a judge,” Durkin said.
Lyke and Stevenson finished their wedding by jumping over a broom, in a tradition adopted by enslaved communities in the American South.
Lyke and Stevenson, who are both Black, incorporated the broom jump as a way to honor their ancestry, Lyke said. It was common for enslaved couples to jump the broom as a symbolic union, as their marriages were not legally recognized.
“During slavery we weren’t considered people, and our marriages were not acknowledged,” Lyke said.
While all 26 pairs of newlyweds sprint into married life, Lewis hopes to run all six World Marathon Major races and he’s already booked a ticket for Tokyo 2025. The couple previously ran the New York Marathon together.
In both love and running, Celphane advises couples to take everything at their own pace. “Don’t put pressure on yourself,” Celphane said. “It’s an individual race.”
More importantly, Lewis added, “Don’t pretend to love running for the sake of love.”