On July 8, 2009, an 18-year-old girl sat in a rocking chair outside her family’s bungalow on Beach 109th Street. Having just had all her wisdom teeth removed and struggling to eat a hamburger at a bungalow court barbecue, Jessie Zimmer who described herself as looking like a “chipmunk” at the time, was caught off guard when a handsome man with an English accent took a seat next to her.
The man, 22-year-old Craig Richardson, was one of the many wounded soldiers in town for the Wounded Warriors Weekend in Rockaway. Bobby Zimmer, a member of the Graybeards, which was working with the Warriors, connected them with some fellow bungalow residents who were willing to host the soldiers in their seaside homes for the weekend. Some of the soldiers who were hosted at the bungalows were from BLESMA, the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
Outside one bungalow, something special unfolded. “That’s where the seed was planted. Jessie just had four teeth removed and couldn’t really talk or eat much, but something happened… that look,” Zimmer recalled. “We just started talking. Not so much about his injuries, but just about life,” Jessie said.
She would later learn how Richardson came to be a part of BLESMA. Richardson, who was a senior aircraftsman for the Royal Air Force Regiment, was on a night patrol in Afghanistan in October 2008 when the vehicle he was next to rolled over an IED. He went flying into some tall grass and realized his right foot was up by his hip. Richardson had injured much of the right side of his body. Doctors tried to save his leg, but in November 2008, they had to amputate his right leg below the knee. With the help of physical therapy and a prosthesis, Richardson was able to get back on his feet and participate in the Summer 2009 Wounded Warriors Weekend.
Richardson was only down for the weekend and was left with the line, “you’re welcome back anytime.” He took it literally. A month later, Craig and a friend were back in Rockaway for a 12-day stay. “The fact that they came back kind of shocked my dad,” Jessie said. “It was surprising when I found out Craig was coming back a month later,” Zimmer said. “We realized that we really liked each other, so we kept talking and seeing where it would go,” Jessie said.
By Thanksgiving, Richardson was back, again. “I didn’t really know where our relationship was at that point, but one night he told me he loved me,” Jessie said. Shortly after, they called it official and found that love knew no distance. Through many phone calls, plane rides and with Jessie even spending some time studying abroad in England, they were able to work through the distance for five and a half years.
“When Craig sat down next to me in that chair, I was at first physically attracted to him, but I got to know him and he’s a good person. I’m the most indecisive person, but when it came to Craig, I was always sure. Something in my bones told me I wanted to be with him. The distance didn’t matter. There was nothing in my mind that would deter me from at least trying and fighting for it because you fight for what you love. One of my favorite words is believe. Craig and I have always believed in each other,” Jessie said.
On May 7, 2015, their relationship became even more official. “He was over here visiting and he said he wanted to go for a trail ride on a horse. I love horses, but I could never get him to go on one, so I was suspicious. I checked his pockets to see if he had a ring, but there was nothing there,” Jessie said. “At some point into the ride, he pretended his leg hurt and he hopped off and said he was gonna go pee. I said, ‘you’re joking!’ I’m standing there with the two horses on the trail and he goes off, and then this runner I recognized goes by, so I start talking to her. Craig turned back and had a ring and got down on one knee,” Jessie said.
“We thought after that, we could just be together, but the immigration process doesn’t make it easy,” Jessie said. “We had to prove we were a real couple.” On September 8, 2015, Jessie and Richardson got married in a small court ceremony in New York City. “I never changed my name or wore a wedding band because I still wanted to have a traditional wedding,” Jessie said.
“We wanted to get married in England because everything in our lives happened in the states. Our lives are in Cranford, NJ, he proposed here, we got married here, so he wanted to bring something across the pond,” she said. “I always dreamed of a spring wedding, but when looking at dates, the wedding planner warned us that spring in England wasn’t that nice, so she gave us more dates and hit upon July 8.” On July 8, 2017, eight years to the day that Richardson sat next to Jessie in the rocking chair, they celebrated with a wedding ceremony at Narborough Hall and Gardens in Norfolk, England, and Jessie officially became a Richardson. The couple was surrounded by friends and family, some of which made the trip from Rockaway, including dad, of course.
“The most precious gift a man can ever give away is his child. When Jessie was a little girl on a bike with training wheels, she would say, ‘daddy, stay with me, don’t let me go.’ When we took off the training wheels, I watched her go off into the driveway and then off to school and off to work and then to England. I told Craig, now it’s your job to stay by the bike with Jessie,” Zimmer said.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS