How They Met: Racing Hearts
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How They Met: Racing Hearts

The loss of their fathers to similar diseases sent Daniel and Caren pedaling for a cause -- but neither suspected that love would come along for the ride.

Daddy's Girl

Caren Begun's father was always full of surprises. When she was 12, he took her ice-skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City, and he surprised her by lacing up a pair of his own skates and hitting the ice. "There were things about my dad that I never knew, and that he could skate was one of them. He usually was this hard-core businessman, then he'd surprise me by letting out the little kid inside of him."

The most memorable surprise that Caren's father ever sprang on her was also the most devastating. In 1996, he told her he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. When he died two years later, Caren was devastated. In 2002, to honor her father's memory, Caren signed up to ride in a 100-mile charity bike ride for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She wanted to help fight the disease that took her father from her, especially since her stepfather also battled a form of lymphoma.

During her first training session for the ride, at a New York City gym, Caren met Daniel Begun, an avid cyclist who had biked the charity event the previous year. Daniel was back this year not only as a participant but also as a mentor, whose job it was to help first-timers feel welcome. When he spotted the cute brunette, he approached her with an outstretched hand and a friendly greeting.

From there, an easy friendship developed. The two began meeting once or twice a week for morning Spinning classes and found excuses to ride together during their outdoor training sessions. "I really wasn't looking for a relationship," says Caren. "But Daniel and I had such an open, comfortable way of communicating. I felt like I could just be myself with him."

About a month after they met, the two attended a potluck dinner honoring the cancer patients and survivors they were working so hard to help. Daniel asked Caren why she'd gotten involved with the charity. She told him about her father's death, then listened with sympathy as Daniel explained that his own father had died of leukemia just five months before lymphoma had claimed Caren's dad.

This shared loss would turn out to be just one of many bonds they shared. Both are Jewish, and both had endured the divorce and subsequent remarriages of their parents when they were young.

Because they had both lived with their mothers growing up, neither spent a great deal of time with their fathers. Daniel knew that he'd inherited his dad's "punny" sense of humor, but like Caren, felt that there was still more he would have liked to know about the man. "I've always been interested in science," says Daniel. "But it was only through conversations with my stepmother, after my father's death, that I discovered he had that same fascination."

"Talking about our dads with each other sort of opened up a dialogue about two people whom we both loved and missed a great deal," says Caren. "It triggered memories that we'd kept under the surface, and sharing those memories played a part in deepening our connection."

Support System

After completing four months of intensive training, Caren and Daniel were ready for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's "America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride," a 100-mile ride through the hills of Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

As they approached the end of the event, Daniel turned to Caren and shouted out: "Should I bike ahead and take a picture of you crossing the finish line?" Caren's reply: "I'd rather we crossed together." With that, Daniel grabbed one of her hands off the handle bars, raised it to the sky with his, and the couple sailed across the finish line together.

"I jumped off my bicycle, my legs feeling like Jell-O, and I ran over and hugged him," says Caren. "It was very emotional because of what we had just accomplished and the reason we were there. And I knew then that Daniel would always be my biggest supporter."

Within weeks, Daniel confided to his stepmother that he wanted to propose to Caren, but that he'd have to save up money for a ring.

"She said to me, "Don't wait -- if you know she's the one, you have to do it now," he recalls. She then offered Daniel the diamond ring that his father had given to her almost two decades earlier.

"It meant so much because I knew the devotion my stepmother had for my dad," says Daniel. "When she was at his side in the hospital, I saw two people in love to a degree that I never thought possible. Giving us her own engagement ring affirmed that she felt just as strongly about my relationship with Caren."

Daniel proposed to Caren on September 6, 2002, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In order to give their fathers due credit for the part they played in bringing the couple together, Caren and Daniel entitled their engagement announcement: "From Bicycles to Betrothal: A Conspiracy from Above." As a way of paying tribute to their matchmakers, and as an engagement present to Daniel, Caren arranged to have two trees planted side by side in Israel in their fathers' names.

And on their wedding day, September 7, 2003, the two men were present in spirit. Daniel wore his father's dress watch, and the couple exchanged vows under a huppah, a Jewish wedding canopy, topped with a prayer shawl that belonged to Caren's father. The marriage is proof that although Caren lost her father, his ability to surprise her continues.

"My dad always told me that he wanted me to marry a nice, Jewish boy," she says. "He wasn't able to make it happen while he was alive, but somewhere from above, he finally pulled it off."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2004.