Nicole Brobeck has loved fairy tales for as long as she can remember, and she’s overjoyed that hers has finally come true. Her life, though, has been anything but storybook.
Brobeck was born 28 years ago with cerebral palsy and almost didn’t survive her first night. She faced major operations, years of therapy, and teasing and cruelty as she went through school with a learning disability. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and when she was a young adult, her beloved father died after a short and sudden illness.
But, following the heartache of losing her dad, Brobeck found happiness. Several weeks after his death in July 2007, Brobeck got accepted into a living skills program for disabled adults.On her first day there, while still in mourning, crying and feeling shy, she met fellow student Curtis Braxton, who has hydrocephalus and a seizure disorder. She found him sweet and polite; he thought she was pretty and easy to talk to. The pair, who both have mild cognitive impairments, became fast friends and began spending hours on the phone every night.
On Sunday, thanks in large part to an outpouring of help from strangers, the Northern California couple became husband and wife at a stunning, fairy-tale-inspired wedding. Vendors donated thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh flowers, photography, videography, table linens, a three-tiered wedding cake, a honeymoon hotel stay and more after they were moved by the couple’s story.
“Our feeling is that those kids deserve what they’re getting,” said flower broker Jon Gomez. “I kind of fell in love with this little girl. ... She calls me her fairy godfather.”
At their wedding in Lafayette, Calif., Brobeck wore a white satin gown adorned with lace, pearls and crystals and sported sneakers decorated with lace and rhinestones. Braxton wore a white tails tuxedo and sneakers. Before a teary crowd, they exchanged heartfelt vows they wrote themselves. Their 135 guests enjoyed a buffet dinner, dancing and Disney music on a warm, spring night.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always kind of wanted someone to come and take me away to his kingdom, probably to escape all of the reality and heartbreak I was going through day after day,” Brobeck told TODAY.com a few days before her wedding. Braxton, she said, is making her dreams come true. “He’s definitely doing that.”
And he said the same of her. “I love her because she touched my heart like nobody has ever touched my heart before,” said Braxton, 33.
More in Good News!
The mother of the bride, Cheryl Young, can’t stop beaming with pride and gratitude over the wedding.
“It was their happily-ever-after, over-the-rainbow dream wedding,” said Young, who shares a home with the couple in Concord, Calif., a suburb 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. “It was beautiful and magical and certainly everything that Nicole sees for herself. She sees endless possibilities.”
Just ‘like everyone else’
Brobeck and Braxton are something of an anomaly. While it’s rare for adults with developmental disabilities to date, it’s even more unusual for them to marry, said Karen Lingenfelter-Carman, the head teacher at the couple’s life skills program. The program, which encourages healthy dating, counts this wedding as only its third between participants in 30 years.
Brobeck, who still attends the program, has limited mobility in all of her limbs and gets around with a walker, scooter or wheelchair. Braxton, who works at a packaging company, uses a walker. Still, Brobeck and Braxton don’t view themselves as disabled.
Story: ‘Bionic bride’ now has real heart: ‘God does miracles’
“I liked the fact that when he looked at me, he didn’t see my disability first and vice versa,” said Brobeck, who appeared on an Easter Seals poster at age 6.
They feel they’re “like everyone else,” Brobeck said — and they are. They do volunteer work, and they like to watch movies, play Wii and go bowling and camping.
Braxton said being with Brobeck has helped him feel happier. “I love Nicole because she’s so happy and she doesn’t let her disability get to her, get her down,” Braxton said, adding, “That’s how I used to be.”
Braxton and Brobeck’s first kiss happened on Valentine’s Day in 2008. “After that, we didn’t stop,” Brobeck said. “It was my first kiss ever.”
As they fell in love, he had a sparkle in his eyes, and she had a special smile when they were together, recalled Lingenfelter-Carman, who introduced the couple in 2007 and served as mother of the groom at their wedding. (Braxton’s mother died when he was 16.)
“They both lit up,” she said. “It’s awakened a whole new side of them that we’d never seen before. It was incredible to watch.”
Planning the wedding
After they got engaged on Valentine’s Day last year, the couple were overjoyed to learn that a charitable organization was going to throw them a wedding. Young, 57, couldn’t afford a big wedding in the face of large medical bills and without the help of her late ex-husband, a real estate appraiser. But in November the organization inexplicably backed out, said Young, who would not identify the group.
“That just knocked the human spirit out of the two of them,” Young recalled.
Instead, they began planning a modest affair. The couple found Wildwood Acres Resort in Lafayette. Co-owner Lien Jegers said that while Brobeck fell in love with the venue, tucked away in a private canyon, she fell for Brobeck, and offered to help.
“She is a sweetheart, her and Curtis,” Jegers said. “I promised I’m going to give them a very nice wedding at little cost.”
With the date set, Brobeck and her mother went in early April to the San Francisco flower market. There, Gomez, who owns Americana Flower Brokers, saw Brobeck in her wheelchair with a bridal tiara atop her head. Curious, he asked what drew them to the market.
Young and Brobeck jokingly told him they were looking for “cheap potted plants” for centerpieces. But as Young tells it, Gomez replied: “There’s no cheap potted plants for this young lady. She’s going to have fresh flowers.”
Gomez called on his friends in the wedding industry for help. They neither hesitated nor placed restrictions on their services, and they didn’t charge a cent, Gomez said. “As soon as I mentioned the word ‘disabled,’ they were in,” he said.
In addition to the cake, photography, video services, table linens and flowers, vendors also provided free staging and design services for the wedding and a free hotel stay and trip to an aquarium for the couple’s honeymoon.
Young, who works as an in-home support worker for her daughter and is a part-time life coach, estimated she spent $7,000 on the wedding, though “everyone said it was like a $50,000 or $60,000 wedding." The vendors, said a grateful Young, are “my new family."
A new chapter
Brobeck’s favorite fairy tale is “Sleeping Beauty,” the story of a princess awoken from a spell with a prince’s kiss.
“I’m her Prince Charming because when we first met, she would kind of like fall asleep and then I would kiss her and she would wake up,” Braxton said.Story: Bride with rare cancer: ‘I won’t live in fear’
Brobeck said she’s prepared for married life with her prince. “I’m ready to start that chapter in my life,” she said.
Their goal is to one day live alone, as independently as they can, in a house with a picket fence, Brobeck said. Though they’d love to have kids, they’re opting not to do so because they feel they couldn’t care for them properly, she said.
In the years ahead, she envisions the two growing closer. “So close we’ll probably finish each other’s sentences,” Brobeck said.
Brobeck’s mother said the couple’s story stands as a reminder that love is there for the taking.
“Love is exactly what it’s always been and it’s there for anyone whose heart is open,” Young said. “There is no disabled love. There is only true love. And they have it.”
To read more about Brobeck and Braxton’s wedding, visit their wedding website.
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyle reporter based in New York.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints