The story of how two University of Hawaiʻi swimmers went from “hello” to “yes I will.”
Text by Aja Toscano
Images by Samantha Feyen
“When we first started dating, we were actually very secretive. People were like ‘You guys are super close aren’t you?’ and we we’re like ‘Yeah, we get along really well,” says Erin McNulty with a smile, looking back to the start of her relationship with Katie Armbrecht.
The couple, who are now engaged, met as teammates on the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa swim team in 2013. They have been each other’s New Year’s kiss every year since. Katie popped the question on their anniversary, New Year’s Eve of 2016, after months of trying to hide the surprise. We sat down with Katie and Erin to hear more about their engagement story.
“I was so in the dark about it, I had no idea,” Erin says.
“Luckily, because there were a lot of little hints that could’ve ruined it quite a few times,” Katie says.
Both from small towns, one in California and the other in Colorado, the couple visits their homes during the holidays. But for this special occasion, Armbrecht planned for both parents to spend Christmas in California so that their support would be there to celebrate their engagement. Katie told both of their families long before the awaited date. In as early as October, Katie started receiving messages of congratulations from family and friends confused on the secrecy of the proposal that was still in planning.
“The worst one was when we went to watch her brother’s swim practice [for the local high school and club],” Katie says. “They have a new coach there that also swam for Hawai’i. So he said, ‘Oh I heard you guys are getting married!’”
“And I was like ‘what? No, no we’re not. Dating for a while! But not.’ And then he was like ‘Oh, I thought your dad said.’ And I was just so confused,” Erin says.
Nearly 30 years ago, Erin’s parents tied the knot at Wedding Rock, a scenic look out point off the coast in Patrick’s Point State Park. Erin had dreamed of getting married at the same charming, intimate space that connects the land and the sea, but as she had gotten older, realized it wouldn’t be big enough to host the size of wedding she wanted. “I think [Katie] knew it was special to me, and getting engaged on that rock was a way to make it memorable for our relationship, even though we can’t get married out there” Erin says.
On the day of the engagement, Katie gathered their parents for a hike and annual Christmas photoshoot at the very same wedding rock. “Everyone dressed up because we all knew what was going to happen. Then, Erin comes out, not dressed the best,” Katie says with a laugh.
“I’m in a T-shirt and leggings,” Erin explains.
“Yeah, while the rest of the family are in nice collared shirts and are like ‘Erin, you might want to go change,’” Katie says.
The thought of Katie proposing didn’t cross Erin’s mind until Katie began her speech. Erin remembers the moment, shaky hands and all, when Katie held her hands before getting down on one knee. “She’s really the most thoughtful person, I don’t know how she put it all together so perfectly,” Erin says.
The fiancées are in the process of moving to California to be closer to family, so their wedding date has yet to be set. For now, the two are creating endless Pinterest boards of color schemes and dresses, shooting dreamy engagement photos at scenic Lanikai Beach, and enjoying their time left on the islands, where their story began.