Love: Katina Polites & Justin Behm

September 1, 2012, in Broomall

Posted: October 25, 2012

Hello there

The Saturday before Easter 2010, Katina, then a women's field-hockey coach at Slippery Rock University, had to meet with recruits. Driving the six hours back home to Berwyn for just one day wasn't practical, so Katina accepted an invitation from then-head coach Stacey, to spend the holiday with her and her husband, Mike, an hour south in Pittsburgh.

That night, at Katina's request, the three watched the college basketball Final Four at a local sports bar. Katina, who played field hockey and earned a sociology degree at the University of Connecticut, wanted to see Duke get crushed.

They met up with Mike and Stacey's friends Sam and Suzanne and a man and woman Katina assumed were another couple.

"This is Justin," Stacey said during the introductions. Cute, but obviously taken, Katina thought. "Nice to meet you," Katina said.

"You have a very nice smile," Justin told her.

She didn't think that was so cute. "You skeeve!" she said to herself. "You just hit on me in front of your girlfriend!"

Katina ignored Justin until she overheard him asking Stacey about field hockey, which he had developed an interest in from watching late-night broadcasts. As the night went on, Justin seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Katina wondered if she had misjudged him.

Then it was time to leave.

Justin said he noticed Katina right away and had been trying all night to talk to her. He wasn't giving up yet.

"Where are you and Stacey going?" Justin asked.

Not this again, Katina thought. "I don't know," she said with snark. "Where are you and your girlfriend going?"

"My girlfriend?" asked a puzzled Justin, now 32. "I'm Sam's friend from North Dakota. I'm visiting for the weekend."

Sam did his residency in Pittsburgh and had been trying to get Justin - his best friend since boyhood in North Dakota - to come watch the Penguins play. This weekend, the stars aligned: Justin had time off from his jobs as an elementary school physical education teacher and high school football coach; his ex-wife had custody of their son, Owen; and his parents, Sandy and Bruce, understood that hockey took precedence over coloring eggs. So he made the trip east.

Katina, now 29, saw Justin's efforts to talk to her in a different light.

Everyone went to an after-hours bar, where Katina and Justin settled onto stools and talked and talked.

When it was time to leave, Katina and Justin still had more to say to each other. They stayed up all night at Sam and Suzanne's.

"If I came to visit you in Philadelphia, what's one thing we would have to do?" Justin asked.

Since they are into sports, Katina said they'd have to run the Art Museum stairs like Rocky. Since she loves food, they would also have to eat cheesesteaks.

And so was born the Cheesesteak Challenge concept: Eat half a Pat's, run the stairs. Run back down, eat half a Geno's. The first one with an empty mouth wins.

The sun rose. Justin walked Katina back to Stacey and Mike's and kissed her goodbye.

"I'm thinking I would never see him again," Katina said.

But soon they were texting. Then Justin called. The airline bumped him and gave him a flight voucher. "What is Philadelphia like on the Fourth of July?" he asked.

Katina suggested he come in June instead, for her friend's wedding.

They Skyped until Justin arrived for a week in Pennsylvania.

After a night out that included an '80s cover band and more than a few drinks, Justin said he had something to tell Katina. She suspected she knew what, and told him she didn't want to hear it when he had been drinking. The three words came out anyway. Katina ignored them.

The day after Katina's friend's wedding, in Pep Boys waiting for Katina's Jeep, Justin tried again. "I love you," he told Katina.

"I love you, too," she said.

Justin learned to order "wit Whiz," won the Cheesesteak Challenge by a single bite, and flew back to Fargo.

How does forever sound?

The two saw each other a total of 31 days in person before Katina moved to North Dakota that December.

"If he was willing to move to Philly," she said, and leave his son, Owen, now 7, "he wouldn't be the man I wanted to marry."

There is no women's field hockey in North Dakota. Katina is now a full-time student, working on a master's degree in speech pathology.

In September 2011, the couple bought a house together. That Thanksgiving, they got a dog, Gus. In December, visiting Philadelphia, they returned to the Art Museum steps.

They were standing behind Rocky when Justin asked Katina to turn and look at the city, so he could take a picture. When she turned back toward him, he wasn't holding the camera, but a ring. "Katina Polites, will you marry me?" he asked.

"Of course!" Katina said. She knelt down beside Justin and hugged him, and the other people on the stairs burst into cheers.

It was so them

The couple were married in a mostly traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony in the same church where Katina's parents, Chris and Kathy, had wed. Each wore a stefana- a crown - made by the bride's aunt. Katina's sister held their wedding bands in her hands, and crisscrossed her arms back and forth three times, representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The bride wore her great-grandmother Katina's rhinestone shoe buckle, from 1927, in her hair. She carried flowers arranged by her father, a florist.

At the reception, the couple's 140 guests sat at tables named after the 15 sports arenas where the couple have attended professional or college games.

When it was time for the first dance, everyone who knows the couple's story began laughing at the first strains of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night."

Awestruck

After the ceremony, Katina and Justin walked back up the aisle and through the double doors into the vestibule. "Before anyone else walked in, we just embraced and exhaled," Katina said. "It was the 'We did it!' moment."

The difficulties of falling in love with someone who lived "1,400 miles and 52 moose away" were finally over, Justin said. He always knew they could do it.

Discretionary spending

A bargain: The invitations, which were purchased online.

The splurge: The couple had two bands, one that played everything from Sinatra to the Black Eyed Peas, and one traditional Greek ensemble.

The getaway

A spring trip to Greece and likely other European nations is planned.


BEHIND THE SCENES

Officiant

The Rev. Christ Kontos, Greek Orthodox Church of St. Luke, Broomall

Venues

Church of St. Luke and the Down Town Club, Philadelphia

Catering

The Down Town Club

Photography

Chris Hensel, Media

Music

Philly Party Band, Media, and the George Christoforidis Band of Upper Darby

Flowers

By the bride's father, who owns Polites Florist of Upper Darby and Springfield, Delaware County

Dress

By Rivini, purchased at the Wedding Shoppe, Wayne

Invitations

Wedding Paper Divas, www.weddingpaperdivas.com

Wedding planner/ coordinator

Mary White of the Down Town Club

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