WORTHINGTON — From the first moment Oliver Ashworth met his wife Kelsey, he was hooked.
“We’d hugged, and then a pin she was wearing hooked onto my clothing,” said Oliver.
“It was a little awkward because we couldn’t separate right away.”
But after slightly more than four years of marriage (following years of long-distance friendship followed by romance), the couple views the incident through an alternate lens.
“Now, it seems like destiny,” said Oliver.
The Ashworths moved to Worthington in November from the Kansas City, Mo., area for Oliver’s new job as a judicial law clerk with Judge Gordon Moore in the Fifth Judicial District.
An international correspondence
Oliver grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, a metropolitan area of about 1.1 million people; Kelsey is a native of Lenexa, Kansas.
“My friend, Emily, moved with her entire family to Port Elizabeth at the start of our sophomore year for her dad’s engineering job,” said Kelsey.
“She and Oliver were classmates. They became good friends and were in the same friend group.”
Although Emily’s father was supposed to remain on assignment in South Africa for three years, they returned in time for Emily and Kelsey’s senior year of high school due to a most unfortunate incident.
“Emily’s dad was late to meet his cycling group so was riding alone when he was mugged and very badly beaten up,” recounted Kelsey.
“Her mother insisted they move back. But if that hadn’t happened, Oliver and I might not have met.”
Instead, Emily and Kelsey renewed their friendship as high school seniors, while Emily stayed in close contact with her South African classmates.
“We took tons of photos together and hung out a lot, and Emily was always sharing pictures with her South African friends,” said Kelsey.
Oliver couldn’t help but notice Kelsey, and one day he messaged Emily, “Who is that girl in all of your photos?”
“I’d heard of Kelsey from Emily, but I had never expected to meet her,” said Oliver. “When I saw her profile picture, that was the attracting feature — so I added her as a Facebook friend.
“And one day, she messaged me.”
The Ashworths, then 18, immediately began “talking” over Facebook messenger, and as Kelsey remembers, it all started smoothly.
“We hit it off immediately and messaged constantly,” said Kelsey. “We started Skyping after a couple of months and also used What’s App.”
As their friendship grew, they talked about how it would be fun to meet, but with a 24-hour flight and nearly 9,000 miles between them, that seemed like a fantasy.
About two years later, their mutual friend Emily returned to South Africa for a visit, and when she got back to Kansas, she bore an old-fashioned hard-copy letter from Oliver for Kelsey.
Roughly two more years of high-tech and snail mail later, Kelsey finally had a chance to travel to Port Elizabeth with Emily for a six-week visit in June and July 2013.
First encounter leads to long-term commitment
Oliver was at the airport, eagerly anticipating their first in-person meeting, when the awkward pin moment occurred.
“I was shocked when I first met her,” he revealed. “It was like watching a movie and then meeting the actor; you don’t really know how to respond, but I was extremely happy to see her.
“Then we hugged and it got a little awkward, but I drove her to Emily’s boyfriend’s house and after we’d all talked for a couple of hours, Kelsey and I disappeared to talk alone because it seemed like after the first 10 minutes we’d known each other for a long time — which we had.”
Added Kelsey, “I thought, ‘Wow, we are just totally hitting it off.’”
The couple’s shared love of animals and pets — they now have a cat named Obi, because “we are big Star Wars fans,” Kelsey said — hiking, movies and cooking quickly rose to the surface.
“I mean, we hit it off instantly in person,” said Kelsey.
And when Kelsey’s visit ended, they agreed to try dating long-distance.
The following summer, Kelsey was again able to travel to South Africa — and Oliver surprised Kelsey with a marriage proposal on her July 9th birthday.
“I wanted to make it as surprising as possible,” said Oliver, “so I created a treasure [scavenger] hunt.”
Oliver enlisted friends and chose five of Kelsey’s favorite spots in Port Elizabeth.
“First was a beach, where my friends had drawn a huge heart with ‘Kelsey’ written in it, and she had to dig up the clue for the next place — a lighthouse,” related Oliver.
“There, my friends were at the top with the next clue — and the last place was the first place we’d kissed, at a reservoir with a view of the city.
“All my friends and family were waiting just over a hill, and I’d told them, ‘If I hoot [honk], come out because that means she said yes; if I don’t, meet me at the bar.”
Kelsey said yes, his friends appeared with confetti and champagne, and for the next 18 months their long-distance love connection continued as they worked to figure out the logistics of uniting as an international couple.
Marriage and more
During that time, the pair managed to fly to see each other approximately every six months — and each time they parted, the one staying behind gave the traveler a sealed, lengthy letter to open and read once the plane had taken off.
“Now I don’t know why we did that; it was just torture,” said Oliver. “We also wrote letters and shipped them with small gifts to each other, because it seemed more sincere and authentic to have an actual hard-copy message.
“But it was expensive, and we were broke students.”
“The distance was really hard on us,” agreed Kelsey.
Because Oliver was finishing his college education online, they decided it could work for him to move to the United States.
A plethora of paperwork preceded Oliver’s move, and when it came time to provide evidence to immigration authorities that theirs was a real love match, their copious supply of emails, Facebook messages and letters came in handy.
“There were almost 100,000 messages between us on Facebook messenger alone,” said Kelsey.
Said Oliver, “When I tried to access all the messages, my computer shut down because Facebook couldn’t cope with the quantity.”
They married on Dec. 30, 2015, at the courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas, within the required 30 days of Oliver’s arrival to the U.S.
Oliver, now a lawyer, mentioned that traveling together is among their favorite things.
“We both love collecting records,” he mentioned, and Kelsey chimed in, “We cook together almost every day; we really like Indian and Asian food, and sometimes we make South African things — shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, an English breakfast here and there, so Oliver can have some of his favorite foods from home.”
When Valentine’s Day rolls around, the couple is more wont to eschew sappy cards and instead revert to the mode that brought them together.
“About every six months or so, we write actual letters to each other and place them in cards for birthdays or Valentine’s Day,” said Kelsey.
“And at least once a year, I go back and read our old letters when I’m feeling nostalgic.”
Kelsey easily recalls her initial impressions of Oliver.
“I liked that he was different; he had cool hobbies, like playing chess, he has a terrific sense of humor, and it was so easy to be open and really myself with him,” she said. “We’ve always communicated really well."
Said Oliver, “I’ve come to appreciate how our differences became our strength in the relationship.
“We supplement each other’s deficiencies in that way; she’s a lot more creative than I am, for instance, and you can say we play well off each other but still get on well together and have similarities.”
In any case, even if their Valentine’s Day celebration isn’t fancy, the Ashworths are happy to spend it together rather than separated by thousands of miles.
Said Oliver, “With Kelsey, every day is usually a good day.”