It was a marathon to remember for one Sunset Park couple.
Joan Ayala was finishing the 14th Annual United Airlines NYC Half with her parents Victoria and Julio on March 17 — a tradition for the family. Only this year, Ayala’s longtime boyfriend Christopher Harper was waiting for her at the finish line at Central Park with a medal and a ring.
As Ayala finished the race, Harper got down on one knee and proposed.
Ayala — who finished the 13.1-mile race in just under three hours — was taken by complete surprise.
“My legs were like Jell-O,” Ayala said. “I was so tired and there was Chris, standing there with a medal and the ugly crying began. Then I heard people cheering and screaming and I’m like, ‘Who are those weirdos cheering?’ Then I look over and it’s my family.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, those are my weirdos!” she went on. “I was totally caught off-guard. It was the best proposal and just a beautiful moment.”
Thirteen of Ayala’s relatives gathered at the finish line for the proposal, as well as a slew of photographers and camerapeople.
“I was so ecstatic and happy to see them. They were happy tears,” she said. ”Everything was so perfect.”
Ayala’s father, Julio, finished first. Then, with her mom, Victoria at her side, Ayala finished the race.
“Apparently everyone was in on it and I had no idea,” Ayala said of the plans. “My mom was in on it. She said, ‘Let’s run together,’ that way she wouldn’t miss what was going on and that way everyone was there at the finish line.”
Ayala, a Sunset Park resident, has been running with New York Road Runners since 2011 and the half-marathon gave Harper — who also lives in Sunset — a golden opportunity to pop the question.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Harper said, “but when I saw her running, I got in the zone like an NFL player who scores a touchdown.”
Harper used the United Airlines NYC Half’s app to track his now-fiance’s progress and get ready for the big moment.
“Someone on NYRR was tracking Joan and she said, ‘You have one minute, are you ready?’” Harper recalled. “Then, she looked back at her phone and said it was actually nine minutes. I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ Two minutes later we got a text that said ‘She’s slowing down, you have time.’ It was all pretty funny.”
The marathon was already special to Ayala, she said, but the proposal made things even more meaningful.
“I get to share [the marathons] with my parents,” she said. “I don’t know how many more races I’ll have to share so I just try to do as many as as I can, especially with the NYC Marathon. Those mean the most to me because it’s a journey just to get to the finish line and we run through Sunset Park and that’s our home.
“But to be at the finish line with my family, the love of my life and my friends there, it was by far the best day ever, hands down,” Ayala concluded.