As time crept closer to Claire O’Hara’s final squirt boat run at the 2015 Freestyle World Championships, Jez started getting jitters.
“What if she doesn’t win?” he asked himself.
As an announcer at the event, he’d been peppering athletes with questions all day, but was saving his biggest question—the question—for O’Hara, world champion paddler and his girlfriend of three years.
“I was fairly certain she would win, but I couldn’t steal the limelight if another athlete won,” says Jez. “Then I thought, ‘stuff it—if someone else wins, I’ll just propose to them instead,’” he jokes.
Photographer Seth Ashworth was sitting on the Ottawa River’s edge with his camera in his lap as O’Hara floated up the eddy following her final run.
There was a break before the men’s finals, but Ashworth decided to stay put and save his spot to shoot the next event. He snapped a few photos of O’Hara celebrating with the crowd, as she made her way over to Jez and his microphone.
“I watched as Jez ran through the typical list of questions, like, ‘How does it feel to be a world champ again?’ and I could hear something a little off in his voice,” says Ashworth. Then he remembers hearing, “Well, Claire, I just have one more question for you.”
“He pulled out a ring, and I quickly grabbed my camera and started snapping away,” says Ashworth. “The crowd went wild. It was an emotional moment for everyone.” Looking downstream, Ashworth saw Jez’s family holding up a big sign that said, “Claire, will you marry me?”
“I had been planning this for about a year,” says Jez. “I’m glad she did win, or things might be quite different right now.”
This article originally appeared in Rapid Spring 2016 issue.
Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.