After months of e-mailing, couple becomes engaged at first meeting

Love at first type

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

It's Feb. 14, 2002, and a young woman is sitting anxiously in the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

She knows her life is going to change. She knows the man she's about to greet -- a man she's spoken to only by telephone and e-mail -- is going to propose in the coming days. She knows she's going to say yes.

But though she eyes the nearby television news crew suspiciously, she has no idea what's coming.

As the plane arrives, she stands up and moves toward the gate. Passengers begin to wander into the airport. Each holds a flower. The first goes to another woman, and she relaxes a bit. The rest come directly to her, handing her a flower and wishing her a happy Valentine's Day.

The last man off the plane is familiar; she's seen a picture. He walks up, hands her a flower and gives her a hug. Then he drops to one knee and offers a ring. She accepts.

The news crew films the whole thing, and the story appears on television that night.

To some, it sounds like a movie. To others, insanity.

But for Lisa and Phil Hayward, it's life.

The Sterling couple will celebrate more than Valentine's Day this Friday; they'll also celebrate the one-year anniversary of their first face-to-face meeting and their engagement.

Though the couple has an obvious flare for romance, both admit they never expected to end up here. Both were busy enjoying their own adventures.

Lisa, who was raised in Anchorage and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula since 1989, is a teacher in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. At the time, she was tackling rural life head on, teaching in remote Seldovia and living as a houseguest with community members.

Phil was a nomad. Though the Michigan native had never been to Alaska before last February, he's no stranger to the cold or rural atmosphere. Before meeting Lisa, he was working as a seasonal firefighter at McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility in Antarctica. He spent the southern summers (October through February) at the station and traveled the world the rest of the year, paying particular attention to New Zealand and Australia.

"I was happy being single and teaching," Lisa said. "And I just wanted my students to write to Antarctica."

Phil concurred. He wanted nothing to do with "romance;" he just wanted to talk to new people.

When a mutual friend arranged an e-mail correspondence between the two, they developed a firm "friends-only" rule.

In retrospect, though, the couple said it was the friends-only arrangement that courted their romance.

"It threw us off guard," Phil said. "Neither of us was looking, we were not anticipating anything."

Still, they e-mailed every day for months and started talking on the phone from two to 10 hours a day. (Fortunately, McMurdo Station uses U.S. phone companies, so the calls were not international.)

"It was kind of like sneaking in the backdoor," Phil said. "There were no expectations, no having to worry about pushing things."

"It was pretty comfortable," Lisa agreed. "All we could do was talk. There was nothing to distract us from talking about values and things like that."

It turned out the couple had plenty in common. Aside from their tolerance of extreme latitudes, both Phil and Lisa shared common faith backgrounds.

"He was doing a Bible study and told me about it," Lisa recalled. "I started, and we sort of started doing it together.

"I think God really led us to each other. We both knew God wanted this."

Soon, the two found they were talking as though they were dating and things went from there, they said.

By the time Phil's season in Antarctica was up, he knew he was coming to Alaska. He ordered specialized black opal rings from a dealer he knew in New Zealand and set the plan in motion.

The couple wed in a small ceremony March 16 on the peninsula, then spent a honeymoon at Alyeska Ski Resort.

Now, they're exploring a new adventure together: married life.

"I think everybody marries their opposite," Lisa laughed. "Otherwise, you don't balance each other."

Lisa and Phil do have their differences, which they gladly admit.

"He's a packrat, I'm not," Lisa said. "He's more into the motorized stuff, I like it quieter."

"She likes to ride horses, I like to ride things with horsepower," Phil countered.

In fact, he said, it's his motorcycles in Australia and New Zealand that he misses most about the nomadic lifestyle.

"That's the good thing, not having plans," he said, meandering through stories of trips to the Australian Outback, staying in firehouses and hostels and bumming shelter from locals.

"I could never do that," Lisa laughed. "He knows how to mooch."

Someday, though, Phil said he'll get Lisa to the land down under.

In the meantime, the pair is simply enjoying life with their "blended family" -- three dogs, Jake, Porter and Mandy -- and learning to live together in Sterling.

Lisa is teaching at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, and Phil is driving a school bus and hoping to find a position as a firefighter. And they're dreaming of the future.

"We need a garage," Phil said.

"Or a horse barn," Lisa suggested.

Some more space for kids would be nice, too, they agreed.

And, of course, they need a plan for this Valentine's Day.

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