On the beaches of Hilton Head in South Carolina, three lucky couples gaze over the oceanfront where their dream wedding could take place ... for free.
For many young brides, being whisked away and married beneath swaying palm trees is a vision in the clouds. But for Sandusky natives Jason Sturdivant, 28, and Lauren McGookey, 27, this fantasy wedding could become a reality.
In late January, a wedding wish-fulfillment campaign, "Get Hitched on Hilton Head," started advertising for an all-expenses-paid wedding for couples with the most compelling love story. Not long after, Sturdivant submitted their story.
"I was surfing the Internet for destination wedding sites, and I came across the 'Get Hitched on Hilton Head' contest," Sturdivant said. "Lauren's childhood dream was always to get married somewhere warm and we were considering having a destination wedding. We wanted a small ceremony and had a pretty gripping story, so finding the contest was perfect."
The young couple started dating eight years ago and have experienced their fair share of hard times. When McGookey was a law student at Capital University in 2006, doctors discovered ulcers on her left eye and had to perform surgery that resulted in vision loss. The surgery forced her to drop out of college and put her dreams of becoming a lawyer on hold. Bad luck struck the couple again when Sturdivant was suddenly diagnosed with insulin-dependent Type I Diabetes. Since then, McGookey has graduated from law school and Sturdivant has been working as a chef at a popular restaurant near their home in the Columbus area.
McGookey, a 2001 Perkins graduate, and Sturdivant, a 2000 Sandusky graduate, are among the three finalist couples competing for the free wedding on Hilton Head Island. In March, the finalists were flown to South Carolina to explore the island resorts and get a taste of what the winners can expect.
"The event is pretty cool because the wish fulfillment program is put on by sponsors who donate everything, from the band, dress, food, travel for the bridal party -- everything is literally paid for," media coordinator Paula Magrini said. "The winning couple is allowed to invite 100 guests and we're discounting rooms and airfare 40 percent."
Residents can help make this couple's dream wedding come true by going to the website, wecelebrateyou.com, and voting for McGookey and Sturdivant. Voting started Tuesday and runs through June 10.
"Sandusky is our home town and our parents still live here," McGookey said. "We met here and grew up together here. We love our home and we hope people support us."