Tanner Schabot-Shultis first met Libbi Sykora at a Christian summer camp in Keystone, South Dakota.
It was the summer of 2019, and the Aberdeen native was unloading musical equipment for the camp when he saw Libbi walk in. He felt a spark of attraction, but said he quickly filed it away in the busyness of camp preparations.
But later, when he saw the then-23-year-old Sioux Falls teacher playing her violin
as part of the camp musical worship team, that spark of attraction caught flame.
The attraction was mutual when Libbi saw Tanner’s skill in playing the guitar. The two musicians and camp counselors became fast friends.
“I distinctly remember one moment,” Tanner, then 22, said. “I looked over at her, and we locked eyes for a second.”
One year later, the couple again returned to help at Camp Judson again. This time, they were engaged.
Camp ended about a week before their planned July 2020 wedding, but not before becoming an early coronavirus hotspot in the state later linked to more than 90 cases.
As soon as they heard about positive cases associated with the camp, the couple began scaling back their wedding. They pared down the guest list, explored options to space out, sanitize and add other precautions, but a few days before the big day, they got some bad news.
Tanner’s camp roommate had tested positive. He was a close contact.
Tanner went to get tested, but it was at a stage in the pandemic before rapid testing was readily accessible. He had to wait days for the results, and trying to figure out what to do about the wedding was “excruciating,” Libbi said. They went forward hoping for the best.
“The church was completely decorated,” Libbi said. “We had everything set up. Everything was ready to go, and it was literally less than five minutes before the rehearsal was supposed to start when Tanner got the call.”
He had COVID-19.
They couldn’t go forward with the wedding as planned, but they still wanted to get married.
Within half an hour of getting the call that Tanner had tested positive, he and Libbi were jumping on a zoom call with their pastor, who agreed to perform the ceremony virtually that night.
Even the zoom wedding didn’t go as planned.
“In the middle of the zoom call, the internet died,” Tanner said. “We finished our ceremony on a phone call.”
A chance at closure
The thought of re-planning a wedding after having their initial plans ruined by the coronavirus was overwhelming for Libbi.
In just over a year’s time she’d met Tanner, fallen in love, moved from Sioux Falls to Aberdeen, gotten married over the phone and spent her honeymoon sick in quarantine with her new husband.
So, when she saw a local contest with more than 20 local wedding vendors banding together to offer one couple a dream wedding worth more than $33,000, she knew it was worth entering.
Neither she nor Tanner ever expected they’d win.
“She called me, and I could literally hear her shaking,” Tanner said of the moment he found out they’d been selected as the winning couple.
They see this as a blessing and a chance at closure for their wedding which felt unfinished after having to leave the fully decorated church empty, unable to return, and relying on friends to take down decorations.
‘We are a team’
Beyond the big day, Libbi and Tanner’s relationship works for many reasons. They laugh at each other’s jokes. They share a commitment to faith at the heart of their marriage, and, ultimately, they give each other grace in all areas.
“There is a genuine care for the other person,” Libbi said. “We’re learning to take care of each other and use our strength to build each other up.”
They’ve also had the benefit of having close friends who set the example of what a strong marriage looks like, and Tanner said he hopes they can someday model that for other couples as well, and even for their children someday.
Having that grace for each other in the relationship makes it easier to open up without fear of judgment or what the other person might say.
“You’re able to be honest, and there’s an understanding that, like, we are a unit,” he said. “We are a team.”
And, he said, at the end of the day, for better or worse, in sickness and in health,
“It’s really nice to have someone to come home to.”