Something magical happened Saturday evening outside a castle tucked away in the Loess Hills.
Gary Giaffoglione walked side-by-side with his little girl down the aisle on her wedding day – a father’s dream that was seemingly shattered in March 2008 when an automobile accident left Gina, his only daughter, fighting for her life and paralyzed from the waist down.
On this cool, late summer’s evening 6 1/2 years later, in the presence of family and friends, Gary and Gina made their dream a reality.
Deliberately and delicately, father and daughter took one awe-inspiring step at a time together, making their way down a 10-foot wide, 70-foot long path. At the end of the path stood Gina’s husband-in-waiting, John Springhower, who Gary describes as an “amazing young man who fully appreciates Gina for the beautiful person she is.”
It was an amazing feat by an amazing young woman who refuses to let a disability dictate the outcome of her life and a father who would go to the ends of the world to bring happiness to his little girl.
“It was just that moment of Gina and I saying we’re going to do this,” Gary said. “‘This is my dream, this is your dream – we’re doing this. We’re making both of our dreams come true.’”
Many of the wedding guests were surprised, maybe even astonished, to see Gary lift Gina from her wheelchair, lock the braces hidden away under her sprawling wedding dress and get her get lined up for their walk down the aisle.
What most of the guests also didn’t know was that Gary and Gina had been preparing several months for this special day.
With the aid of her braces and a forearm crutch, Gina practiced walking together with her father one session after another - first at Immanuel Hospital in Omaha and eventually on the uneven grassy surface that would become her wedding aisle outside Castle Unicorn.
“We practiced, we practiced and we practiced. Just like we were practicing a routine for tumbling – we do it until we get it right,” the founder and longtime coach for Gary’s Tumbling said. “It always comes back to tumbling – the synchronization, understanding one another and how we’re moving.
“When she stepped left, I had to step right. If she stepped right, I stepped left. It was like poetry in motion.”
Gary and Gina both wore big smiles on their faces as they walked down the aisle – talking with one another along the way. It was important to Gary and Gina for the wedding guests to see the joy they were experiencing during their walk.
“We wanted people to know that not only are we both very honored and proud to be walking down the aisle, but we’re having fun while we’re doing this,” he said. “We didn’t want anyone to think it was stressful or painful or that we might fall.
“We didn’t want anyone saying, ‘Oh no, they’re going to fall.’”
Gary said during the walk Saturday he was reminded that during presentations she’s given about details of the auto accident to school children, Gina has talked about the regret she felt for probably taking away her dad’s only opportunity to ever walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
On Saturday, he had a message for his daughter.
“Today, you gave it all back. You made all those dreams come true today.”
Gina said even after realizing she would live with permanent paralysis, she was committed to giving her father the opportunity to walk his daughter down the aisle should the day come when she would get married.
“I’m his only girl and his only shot of doing that,” Gina said. “He deserved that. He’s done a lot for me over the last 28 years. To make it happen and actually come true was very special for both of us.
“Saturday, when he locked me up and we started walking, we both looked at each other and just said, ‘Here we go. All this practicing, it’s time.’ It was one of the best moments of the day.”
Gary said he was able to keep his own emotions in check during the walk, but his wife Cheryl was a little overcome by the moment as she watched her husband and daughter come down the aisle together.
Gina said the most emotional part of the day with her dad was before the ceremony when he saw her in her white wedding dress for the first time.
“Most of the crying was done when we first saw each other. And once Dad cries, I’m done,” Gina said.
In addition to walking Gina down the aisle, Gary also got to share a special dance with his daughter at the reception. They danced to Butterfly Kisses, a song with special meaning.
“That dance was pretty much where I was feeling emotional,” Gary said. “That’s what she always did to me – she would throw me those little kisses when she was leaving some place. She did that when she was just a little girl. She always threw me butterfly kisses.”
Gary and Gina have performed and coached hundreds of tumbling routines together over the years. On Gina’s wedding day, father and daughter nailed it one more time. Gina not only gave her dad butterfly kisses, but a walk of a lifetime and wonderful memories she and her family will cherish forever.