A pair of athletic shoes was the first step toward walking down the aisle for Nicole Novak and Derrick Yeager.

The couple, who will be married Aug. 21, 2021, met in 2016 when they were lifting weights at Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks.

“I’m a big shoe fanatic, and I saw she had nice blue shoes,” Yeager said. “I said, ‘Those are really nice. Where did you get them?’”

Though Novak answered Yeager, their conversation didn’t carry on beyond the walls of the fitness center. At the time she was in another relationship, and shortly after Novak and Yeager conversed, she moved to Las Vegas, and then to Arizona.

After Novak’s relationship ended, she and Yeager saw each other again in 2018 when they both were lifting weights at Choice, and this time had a longer conversation.

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"It was by chance because she was just here for a weekend,” Yeager said.

When Novak returned to Arizona, they continued to talk by telephone and texts. A few months later, she moved back to Grand Forks.

“Once I met him, I decided I didn’t want to stay in Arizona, that I wanted to be near him and my family,” Novak said.

Though they didn’t meet until 2016, Novak and Yeager had a lot in common. They each grew up in Grand Forks and graduated from high school in the city, a few miles from one another.

Novak is a 2013 Red River High School graduate, and Yeager graduated from Central High School in 2010. The two played high school and college sports. Novak was a hockey forward for the Grand Forks Knight Riders and at UND; Yeager was a basketball forward for Northland Community and Technical College.

It was a shared desire to maintain their fitness that brought the athletes to Choice Health and Fitness, Novak said. Novak, now a Grand Forks Public Schools middle school teacher, and Yeager, a counselor in Grand Forks, continue to regularly work out at the fitness center.

Besides sharing an interest in sports, Yeager and Novak talk openly about their feelings, have close relationships with their families and maintain good senses of humor, the couple said.

Planning their wedding in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic requires Yeager and Novak to have flexibility and the willingness to put in place safety protocols that aren’t typically essential for renting venues and food ordering.

They hope that the number of cases of COVID-19 will be reduced by summer 2021 so they can have the kind of wedding about which Novak has dreamed. They plan to be married at the Hopper Danley Memorial Chapel at UND and have their reception at an East Grand Forks venue.

Their wedding party will be made up of eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen. Besides their families, Novak and Yeager have a lot of friends they want to invite, and hope to have about 250 people attend the reception. The number of wedding guests will be smaller than that because the Hopper Danley Memorial Chapel doesn’t have capacity for a larger group.

Throughout the planning process, Yeager has been easygoing, only asking that he get to choose the main dish at the reception, Novak said.

“His biggest request is chicken alfredo,” she said