— They say marriage is a marathon, not a sprint — but Nick Cordes and the former Leigh Daniel couldn’t resist taking a jog down the aisle after exchanging vows live on national television Wednesday in the 10th annual TODAY Throws a Wedding.
The comely couple, whose story is like a modern-day "Romeo and Juliet” for the sweat set, said their “I dos” under balmy morning skies at the plaza in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center before 180 smiling family and friends — and millions more watching at home.
Bride Leigh, escorted down the aisle by her father, Tab, was a vision in a Christos tulle A-line cap-sleeve gown, leading TODAY’s Matt Lauer to gush that the bride was “stunning beyond belief.” She was met at the altar by Cordes, decked out in a Tommy Hilfiger seersucker suit, and presiding minister Dr. James Hampton.
A secret romance
Given the couple’s highly romantic backstory, it was only fitting that they wrote their own vows for their wedding day. Ohio-born Nick, 29, and Texas gal Leigh, 30, were both track stars in college and met at the Olympic Development Program for runners in Detroit in 2003.
The demanding camp had a no-dating edict, but the couple couldn’t help but get starry-eyed around each other. They had their first, very covert date in the parking lot of a grocery store. Soon the training camp was buzzing about the young lovers — and camp officials issued Nick and Leigh their walking papers as a result.
An Olympic dream may have died, but love bloomed — and six years later, Leigh and Nick’s story so captivated TODAY viewers that they won the TODAY Throws a Wedding contest with a whopping 66,000 votes.
“You look amazing!” Nick told Leigh at the altar in beginning his vows. “I am lucky to know you and am even luckier to be marrying you.
“We’ve been together for six years now, and I look forward to the next 60. You are an amazing person. You taught me a different and better way to live, and I promise to put God first, and keep that as the centerpiece of our relationship. In the beginning, we were best friends; we moved on to training partners, and I would be most proud to call you my wife.”
In her vows, Leigh spoke of a life filled with wonder and much togetherness — the pair both coach track at Nick’s alma mater, Ashland University in Ohio.
“I feel so blessed to be standing in front of my best friend, my training partner, soul mate, and to be looking forward to spending the rest of my life by your side,” Leigh told Nick.
“I look forward to a life of running with our dogs, eating chicken spinach surprise, hanging out with those that we love and just being together.”
The hosts’ toasts
As Dr. Hampton pronounced the couple man and wife, Leigh planted a pink lipstick-laced smooch on her new husband’s lips. After their tongue-in-cheek hustle back down the aisle, the newlyweds joined Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry and Al Roker at the back of the vineyard-fashioned plaza for their first interview as man and wife.
In toasting the newlyweds, Vieira told them, “As you may know, this is the 10th time that TODAY has thrown a wedding out here, so this was particularly special for us. We wanted an event that would be fitting for the milestone, and a couple who could exemplify what these events are all about —that’s love, joy and grace. You fit the bill perfectly.”
Lauer added, “Much has been made out of the fact that you are both runners — very competitive runners — so we want to say that the journey you are starting today is not a sprint: It is a marathon, and I mean that in the best possible way, and we know that if you run this race correctly, and we have every confidence you will, the joy you feel today can last for the years to come and miles you will travel.”
The boyish Nick and beaming bride Leigh seemed unfazed sharing their dream day with a national TV audience, and enjoyed the spoils of an opulent wedding usually reserved for the jet set. Leigh’s necklace and earrings, provided by De Beers, carried a whopping $1 million price tag.
Viewers play wedding planner
TODAY viewers were in charge of nearly all aspects of the wedding — choosing the wedding gown and groom’s wear, attendants and groomsmen wear, wedding rings and even the couple’s honeymoon destination.
Leigh took having a wedding planned by a group of thousands in stride, telling TODAY, “I’m just a believer in fate, and it all worked out perfectly, the way it was supposed to.” Nick added, “It was the dress she wanted, it was the ring she wanted.”
Lauer added, “And the groom she wanted!” Nick laughed and said, “Hopefully, right?”
Viewers selected Australia as the honeymoon spot for Nick and Leigh. The pair will fly business class on their way to the deluxe resort Qualia, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and some of the 70 tropical islands that surround the resort. They will then make their way to the Observatory Hotel in Sydney for a day of pampering, rest and relaxation.
Leigh leaped into Nick’s arms when TODAY revealed their honeymoon itinerary, saying, “We get to hug koalas!”
Certainly, getting married on national television is a surreal experience for what is usually a very intimate event, and Leigh told TODAY she’s just living in the magical moment.
“Tomorrow, on the way to our honeymoon, it will all start to sink in, but this is a fairy tale,” she said.
Following the wedding ceremony, the couple traveled with their wedding entourage to the Grand Ballroom at The Plaza Hotel for a TODAY-sponsored reception.
As if the extravagance of the newly refurbished Plaza ballroom weren’t heady enough for the newlyweds, TODAY added some star wattage by bringing in award-winning country music superstar Martina McBride to serenade the couple with TODAY’s traditional “throws a wedding” song, “I Just Call You Mine.”
Nick and Leigh showed they can dance every bit as well as they run, gliding gloriously along the ballroom’s polished hardwood as McBride sang to them. TODAY’s Roker and Natalie Morales — hosts for the reception’s first hour — got into the act as well, tripping the light fantastic along with the rest of the wedding party. Gregarious Al also seemed to find time to dance with most of the couple’s female relatives during the first number.
McBride, who attended the wedding along with her husband of 21 years, sound engineer John, offered Nick and Leigh a bit of advice on what makes a marriage last. “I think dedication, commitment and respect for each other — and a sense of humor is very important.”
As TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford took over hosting duties for the reception’s second hour, they put together a panel of wedding guests and relationship experts to dispense additional advice to the Cordes.
Particularly animated were wedding guests Ed and Elizabeth Pound, who commented on what’s made their marriage tick during their nearly 50 years together. “We had our first argument in 1959, and we haven’t settled it yet, but we still talk about it,” Ed said glibly.
When Gifford asked Pound what started the fight, he responded, “I forgot!”
Wife Elizabeth got a chance to needle her husband when addressing marital longevity to Leigh and Nick. She said the passion in a marriage “never stops; it ebbs and flows, but you’re together and you will be together.”
“At some point in the marriage, you realize it’s too late to get out anyway,” she added. “So you might as well relax and enjoy it!”
While guests feasted on filet mignon and monkfish, Nick and Leigh moved on to the wedding cake display stand, where Leigh delicately sliced through a spectacularly sinful chocolate on chocolate confection. Appetites sated, the guests and TODAY then took to the dance floor to lean a new wedding favorite “The Cha Cha Slide,” a slightly slinkier version of that old standby, the Electric Slide. Agile Nick and Leigh mastered the steps in moments — but TODAY’s Gifford looked slightly lost before acquitting herself nicely near the song’s end.
Eyes only for each other
In between the festivities, TODAY’s Morales took a moment with mother of the bride Jan Tilley, who said she “is thrilled” to have Cordes as the newest member of the family.
She also noted that even though every bite of wedding cake and every dance step (or misstep) was being caught on camera for a national TV audience, she believed her daughter and new son-in-law only had eyes for each other. “She and Nick look at each other, and they just looked so in the moment with each other,” the mother of the bride observed.
Hoda Kotb made a similar remark as she toasted the couple. “You’ve been like family to us,” Kotb said. “You are a wonderful couple, I could see when you guys were looking into each other’s eyes just how much you meant to one another.”
Gifford, who said she felt touched that both Nick and Leigh expressed their commitment to God in their wedding vows, read from Psalm 143 and then added, “Than you for letting us share your glorious, glorious day with your wonderful family and friends. We wish you great, great happiness in this world and in the next.”
As the couple took a break from the congratulatory hugs and kisses from wedding well-wishers, Leigh told TODAY the pair is excited about the prospect of starting a family, though there is “no rush.”
Nick added he has supreme confidence that the couple will be together to enjoy their grandchildren — and that a day won’t go by when Leigh doesn’t know how he feels about her.
“I know we’re going to make it,” he said. “She tells me sometimes that I tell her too much information, I’m too honest — but she’d rather have me that way because there’s no secrets, no games.”