One man’s inventive whitewater rafting proposal nearly ended in disaster when the engagement ring slipped from his fingers. In an exclusive new interview, Jesse Puryear opens up to The Knot about that near-catastrophic moment — and how everything worked out in the end.
Puryear first met his future wife, Alexandra Love, 26, through mutual family members. “I happened to see one [photo] of Alex and thought she was cute. And I told my sister to introduce me,” he recalls.
Almost immediately, he knew she would be his future wife. “I told my father after the second date I wanted to marry Alex,” Puryear recalls. And eventually, he came up with some very adventurous ideas to get her to say yes.
“My original plan was to go on a hot air balloon, blindfold Alex, and have the ring hanging from a string off side of the cart under the balloon and tell her to ‘reach out’ and grab it,” he says. Those words — “reach out” — have significant because it’s how they first connected. “‘Hey, just wanted to reach out,'” recalls Puryear. “That plan never came to fruition, so then I decided to do it on July 4th during fireworks, while we were visiting her family in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
Love’s brother Josh, a raft guide, offered up the idea of Puryear proposing while rafting. “I was sold immediately. Go big or go home, right?” he says. The lovebirds were joined by Josh and other members of her side of the family. Both Josh and Puryear carefully came up with a fool-proof plan to protect the ring — in case something didn’t go as planned — and tethered it to the future groom’s life vest with an invisible string.
On July 2, they hit the rapids. Dressed in their finest life vests and helmets they took to the rushing rapids for what was sure to be a memorable ride. As the white-capped waters of the Ocoee River started to calm, Puryear reached into a pocket on his life vest to retrieve the white gold diamond engagement ring (complete with a smaller, round diamond halo and diamond-encrusted shank) he had picked for his leading lady, and he started his adventurous proposal. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned.
“Me and Josh had gone down the river the day before by ourselves to plan and time it out when to start with code words,” Puryear says. “But the day of the proposal, none of the plans worked. I couldn’t hear him signaling me to start, so I started a little later then where I should have … I just stared and focused on Alex’s face and kept it short and sweet knowing a class 4 rapid was approaching fast. I told her, ‘I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and wanted to do it in front of your family, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, will you marry me?'”
The ring, though, was not attached to his vest. “Alex’s mother and stepfather [were] sitting behind us. They were elated,” Puryear shares. “I remember hearing screaming and congrats, and then a complete silence once they realized the ring had came off the string.”
In the moment, Puryear tried to hold it together. In the video that’s gone viral, he’s seen saying, “It’s gone. I swear. It’s gone.”
“My mind was racing, but the one thing that sticks out the most is how every other raft guide and company on the river with us that day knew I was going to do it,” he recalls. “And how we were going to have to face hundreds of people asking to see a ring that was swallowed by the river.”
He didn’t lose hope. “I was feeling around and kept feeling little hoops in the bottom of the raft where strings hold the raft bottom together so I kept feeling things that felt like rings. After about three of them I was like well it’s gone,” he recalls. “Then I felt the ring itself.”
In a moment of sheer luck or maybe even fate, Puryear touched the ring on the bottom of the raft and was able to retrieve it before it slipped through one of the rafts many water-draining holes. “[It was] barely holding on to the lip of a hole in the bottom of the raft. I pulled it up for a split second to double check and just raised it up in the air as high as I could. I was at a loss for words, just sheer joy,” he shares. “It was quite insane. After going through the proposal, the ring loss, and find, and then a few more miles down rapids, it was quite draining.”
However, it was worth it. “She is the one I want to grow old with, the one I want to make laugh, the one I want to cry with, even fight with, the one I want to experience life with,” he tells The Knot. “She truly and honestly brings out the best in me as person and I think that is the most important thing.”