Even if Avery Knox and Drew Hill took a while to admit that they were perfect for each other, everyone else around them seemed to know it–even before they’d met. Knox’s grandfather, the owner and founder of the Buffalo Sabres for over 30 years, had always told his granddaughter that she’d marry a hockey player; until last year, she’d never even dated one. Then one of Knox’s friends met a fun, outgoing hockey enthusiast — Hill–whose zest for life reminded her of Knox.
The friend’s hunch was right: Hill and Knox immediately hit it off when they were introduced at Padonia Station in January, 2010. “I was laughing the whole night. I’d never met someone who made me laugh so much,” Knox recalls. But even if their connection was immediate and easy, nothing else was. At the time of their meeting, Hill was in his fourth year of recovery from extensive injuries sustained as a member of the Special Forces serving in Afghanistan in 2006. After his helicopter came under fire, Hill fell out of the aircraft and ended up with a shattered ankle, fractured back and neck, and a shoulder torn out of its socket. When they met, Hill had just moved out of the hospital and was focussing on recovering from shoulder surgery.
But that’s not the only way that their timing was–as Knox puts it– “inconvenient.” Hill had recently made the decision to put his considerable energy toward things that had nothing to do with being in a relationship. A hockey player in high school, he had been introduced to sled hockey–a version of ice hockey designed for players with physical disabilities–while undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Reacquainting himself with the ice–first through sled hockey and later, as his recovery progressed, through standing hockey–had galvanized his recovery; now, along with a group of friends, he was hoping to give that same sense of purpose to other wounded or disabled vets. In 2009, Hill founded the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, a non-profit aimed at getting injured soldiers onto the ice. The sport empowers vets on an emotional level, as well as a physical one. “Most of us have been gaining the ability to do something again or to do it with a different part of our body,” Hill told USAHockey.com. “It’s a return to what you once were and what you thought you’d never be able to do it again.”
By the time he met Knox, the Warriors were Hill’s main focus. Not to mention the fact that the program’s success in the Baltimore area led him to consider a move to Minnesota, where much of his family lives, in order to start another chapter.
Knox, too, was wary. Nevertheless, as the two spent more time together, she became more and more sure of the intuition she’d had on the night they met–that Hill would be someone important in her life. She began volunteering with the Warriors, and the pair “did the friend thing,” as Knox puts it. But their strong connection persisted. “I think we both felt, Okay, you’re a little too perfect,” Knox admits. In the meantime, their work with the Warriors made it clear that they functioned well as a team. Even though Knox was touched by Hill’s compassion, she was still hesitant: “We both kind of knew once we said, ‘Yeah, okay, we’re dating,’ that would be it. So we put that off, [telling people] ‘We’re not dating yet.’ “
By June, though, Knox and Hill had realized, as Knox puts it, that “it [was] possible to have the relationship you want,”–and knew that that relationship was with each other. The two balance each other out, says Knox: “He’s very intense and strong. He has a lot of Type A qualities, and I’m pretty laid back and quiet. He’s taught me to stick up for myself and I’ve taught him how to mellow out and see that everybody has a story.”
These days, Knox works at a salon, but spends much of her time helping out with the Warriors. If Hill takes care of everything on the ice, Knox jokes, then she’s responsible for everything off it–from taking photographs to ordering new warmup suits to babysitting players’ kids during practices. Their teamwork–and the players’ hours of practice–has paid off. This year, the Warriors won their division at the USA Disabled Festival; last year, they lost all of their games
Photo by Maria Vicencio Photography
The pair’s wedding plans matched their courtship: seemingly inconvenient yet ultimately ideal. Although Knox’s mother and sister had gotten married at the family’s farm in Monkton, she had always imagined herself doing something different–a barefoot beach wedding. But after she met Hill, her idea of the perfect ceremony “totally changed,” she laughs. Suddenly, a winter wedding seemed like the perfect fit. “So much of our relationship was solidified in the cold,” Knox notes — not only chilly hockey rinks, but also trips skiing and snowboarding.
But when family health issues made the pair decide to move the wedding earlier, hosting the ceremony at the farm started to make more sense. “We wanted everyone to be able to be there… There are so many people in our lives that are significant,” Knox said. Plus, the location is “absolutely gorgeous,” she added. The May 14 ceremony proved gorgeous, despite light rain. The springtime ceremony hinted at wintry wonder with a January-inspired color palette (Tiffany blue, white, and silver), and trees festooned with tiny Christmas lights. A stunning tent kept the 330 guests dry while allowing ample pristine country views.
Some of the credit for the flawless afternoon might go to one of Knox’s family’s unusual traditions. After her mother’s racehorse No Triskadeckaphobia (Greek for fear of the number 13) started doing better when he raced under the number 13, the family adopted the figure as a token of luck. Fittingly, the ceremony featured 13 bridesmaids and groomsmen, including Knox’s sister, who was born on Friday the 13th. And though the wedding itself was held on a Saturday, the date of the rehearsal dinner–Friday, May 13 –promised an auspicious start to a relationship that, as Knox puts it, “came out of nowhere”–but seemed fated to happen all along.