Brian Knapp has been running for years.
A five-time All-American in college, the Hilton Head Island resident placed third at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships his senior year at Clemson University. And last year he was the first overall finisher out of the state of South Carolina at the prestigious Boston Marathon.
Recently his running took him far beyond any finishing line.
Knapp's girlfriend, Sandra Kazlauskaite, had always wanted to visit Boston, so she went along with Knapp for this year's marathon. And he thought the trip would be the perfect time to pop the question.
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Knapp said he had known for a long time he wanted to marry Kazlauskaite. He had bought the ring in December but was waiting for the perfect moment. Nothing around Hilton Head felt right, though.
Knapp, an insurance producer with HUB International Southeast Limited in Bluffton, said he wasn't sure how he would do it, but he knew this was the time to ask his sweetheart to marry him. Before leaving town, he asked Kazlauskaite's parents for her hand in marriage. They said yes.
Before the marathon, Knapp and Kazlauskaite spent a couple of days in New York City. He said he thought about all the romantic opportunities in the Big Apple -- the top of the Empire State Building, perhaps a carriage ride through Central Park.
"It didn't really feel right in New York," Knapp said. "Nothing really clicked. So I was kind of bummed out."
But the day before the big race, Knapp had a thought. What if he asked Kazlauskaite to marry him in the middle of the Boston Marathon?
With the help of some friends in the area, Knapp made a plan. Kazlauskaite would wait for him at mile 22 of the 26.2-mile race, where she would hand him a bottle of water and send him off on the last few miles of the race. Little did she know mile 22 would be the spot of a momentous occasion.
A TOUGH RACE
Knapp said this year's marathon was a brutal one. It was 90 degrees outside, and there was no wind.
He said of the 27,000 runners at the marathon, 4,000 people dropped out during the race. Seventy-five were taken to the hospital. A few had heart attacks. Beforehand, organizers advised runners who were not in tip-top shape to drop out of the race because of the dangerous conditions. But Knapp didn't let any of that stop him.
He said he suffered dehydration and severe heat exhaustion about halfway through the race. He was panicking because medics were set up throughout the course, and if they saw a runner getting sick -- like he was -- they would pull him out of the race.
"From mile 14 to about mile 19 or 20, right before I saw her, I was just suffering along," he said. "And the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was going to be able to see her at mile 22."
On top of the heat exhaustion, Knapp was worried the ring in his pocket might fall out along the way. He said he reached for his pocket every few minutes to make sure it was still there.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
So three hours into the race, after surviving Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, Knapp made it to his beloved, who was standing on the sidelines, water in hand, ready to cheer him on to victory.
Kazlauskaite said she was a little confused when her boyfriend wouldn't stop kissing her.
"I had three hours to come up with an incredibly charming line to say to her," he said. "But as soon as I pulled up to her ... I completely blanked out."
He said all he could do was kiss her.
Kazlauskaite said she kept pushing him away because his timing wasn't as great as last year and she wanted him to finish the race.
"I'm just standing there, trying to hand over the water, and I wasn't sure what he was doing," she said.
And right there in the middle of all the chaos -- runners flying past, spectators cheering -- Knapp got down on one knee.
"All the training that I had put in and all the time that was spent -- the six months in preparation for the event," he said. "It wasn't about running the race. It wasn't about accomplishing the Boston Marathon. I had already done that last year. It was about meeting her at mile 22 and proposing to her."
With tears and screams of joy, Kazlauskaite said yes and sent him off to finish the race.
"I was like, 'What just happened?'" Kazlauskaite said. "I'm engaged, and he's not even here."
Knapp finished the marathon in three hours, 33 minutes and 44 seconds. And although it wasn't his best time, he said it was the best race he's ever run.
"Nothing is more important than her," Knapp said. "As much as I might run, as much as that might be a big part of my life, nothing is even close to her and how much I love her."