Making a splash is certainly what Nathan Adrian does best in the pool, but the Olympic swimmer is relatively private when it comes to his personal life—something his fiancee Hallie Ivester has known since they first met at a game night six years ago.
“It was a friend-of-a-friend thing,” Adrian tells The Knot in an exclusive interview. “I lived in a big house in Berkeley in the Hills with a couple of other swimmers and athletes. We were all post-grad and we had finished our degrees at Cal… Hallie ended up coming over [and] I don’t even know what we played.”
Ivester adds, “It’s funny because I went to Stanford and Nathan went to Cal, and I was on the diving team and Nathan was on the swimming team. So our worlds ran parallel, but we never actually met through that and I was always like, ‘I’m not going to date anyone from Cal’—joking—but our schools are enemies. And then of course, I go to a game night and we ended up falling in love.”
The couple’s relationship evolved from dating casually to dating with marriage in mind. “It takes time to really understand if your personalities meld well together and we dated for several years,” Ivester tells us. “And I realized it really was a perfect match. We balance each other out well. He’s very easy going and calm and never raises his voice. He’s always fun to be around. We never argue. There are just things that came together over time that made me realize it.”
For Adrian, his future with Ivester was solidified within those quiet moments in their relationship. “There was certainly a point where we had to make that decision to go all in,” he says. “There’s dating and having a good time and that’s great. It takes a while to truly get to know somebody and to get to a point where you’re sitting and it’s okay to be quiet. I think that’s a really good example of when you’re comfortable with somebody. it’s not uncomfortable silence. It’s just silence. It got to a point where it was time to go further. And then, you get to a point where you just decide to go in. And your lives merge and it becomes not, ‘What am I doing next week?’ or ‘What am I doing next year?’ It’s ‘What are we doing next week?’ and ‘What are we doing next year or in five years?’”
Such questions eventually paved the way to the proposal, which took place in May on a romantic beach. First, Adrian stealthily tapped Ivester’s mother to investigate her ring preferences. The Olympic gold medalist concealed the finished product for several months before popping the question in May off the coast of Northern California. “I started shopping like any millennial these days by doing a a lot of online research,” Adrian says. “Her mom was really helpful in giving me the vision of what the ring would look like, and I wanted to go out and make that happen… I’m lucky. Swimming isn’t something that would help you get connections—but one of the guys who runs sound for NBC for our swim meets also owns a jewelry shop down in Sunnyvale. So I coordinated with him and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a diamond this size’ and I showed him a picture. And he was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course! We can make that happen.’ And I was like, ‘This is the best diamond buying experience ever.’”
The Olympic gold medalist devised an elaborate plan to take Ivester out to dinner after he proposed—where their families were on hand to toast to the couple at the famed Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. En route to the celebratory meal—which Adrian concealed under the guise of a Speedo dinner (his main sponsor)—the swimmer pulled over and said he wanted to take a walk along the beach. “You go around this little corner and everything opens up,” he recalls of the magical alcove. “At the end, I got on one knee. I didn’t have a long sweet proposal in mind. I said, ‘I just know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?’”
“You were like, ‘I’ve been trying to find the perfect words. I love you, I want to spend the rest of my life with you,’” Ivester elaborates. “And then, he got down on one knee and then proposed. He was so nervous that the ring [box] was backwards.” The moment came as a complete surprise, she adds with a laugh. “The entire proposal was so sweet. It really was the perfect day.”
It just so happened to work out that the couple was enjoying a Roman holiday of their own when their wedding photographer, Bre Thurston, was in town. “I had a world championship meet in Budapest and I thought it would be really cool to double up with our summer vacation,” Adrian says. “I thought it would be fun for Hallie to come out to Italy. Luckily, she was in New York before so luckily it was short flight over the Atlantic. And that’s how we were in Rome this summer.”
The timing, meanwhile, was impeccable. “We were trying to set up engagement photo sessions… And she said she would also be in Europe. It wasn’t like we went to Rome for our engagement photos, but it just so worked out that way,” says Ivester. Together, the group chose iconic Eternal City spots like the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps at magic hour. The concept was black tie and the couple appropriately dressed the part with Adrian in a black suit and Ivester in an eye-catching red gown with a high-high slit. She accessorized her outfit with Alexandre Birman sandals and a low ballerina bun.
Thurston will also capture the couple when they wed next September in Napa Valley. Like their engagement session concept, the couple’s wedding will be black tie—and most of it is already covered thanks to the bride’s due diligence. “One of the things I love about Hallie is how independent and how successful she is,” Adrian tells us. “She’s working in merchandising at Banana Republic and in all sorts of walks of life, she has a vision and executes it. We’re opposite. I overthink things. and she knows what she wants and she does it. I think that’s why we have planned everything the way it is now. Day after day I was so impressed.”
“My secret ingredient is my mom,” the bride-to-be humbly adds. “I have a full-time job, so both our parents are very supportive. We went to all the venues to look at it with us. I keep a very detailed Excel sheet of all the vendors, costs, what we’ve booked, and it’s a time-consuming process so it’s been a lot. But I’m glad the big things are all booked.”