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Exchanging their vows in permanent ink

The couple wanted an outdoor wedding, but “Neither one of us are country club people,” said Fred.

Katharine "Katie" Walston and Matthew "Fred"  Frederick were married at the Elmwood Park Zoo.
Katharine "Katie" Walston and Matthew "Fred" Frederick were married at the Elmwood Park Zoo.Read moreRebecca Barger Photography

Katharine “Katie” Walston & Matthew “Fred” Frederick

June 19, 2021, in Norristown

Katie’s head and heart were firmly in her rugby match, but that didn’t keep her eyes from noticing the handsome, tattooed man standing next to her assistant coach on the sidelines. “Oh. My. God! That is my kinda man!” she told her teammate between plays. Then the fly half returned to her role in the West Chester Golden Rams’ 2013 defeat of the Kutztown Golden Bears.

Fred, the tattooed man on the sideline, had noticed Katie, too — begrudgingly. He was a flanker for the Kutztown men’s team. Katie’s assistant coach, Jamie, had been his teammate and roommate until heading to West Chester for grad school and this coaching gig. Fred and some other Kutztown guys had hoped to revel in their friend’s defeat, so this standout West Chester player did not please him.

After their victory, Katie and some teammates invited Coach Jamie and his Kutztown friends over for pizza and beer, which is when Fred noticed Katie in the same way she had noticed him. “We got to talking, and there was definitely a connection,” he said. There was also smooching.

Neither expected to see the other again but they exchanged contact information anyway. One text led to another, and then to a couple of visits at her school or his. They kept it casual. “We were one and a half hours apart, and we both wanted to live the college life,” Katie explained.

In early 2014, she invited Fred to her team’s annual fancy date party. “He got to be around the whole team, and the fact that he didn’t run after that, I thought this could be something,” Katie said.

That March, Fred asked her to be his girlfriend. “We work really well together,” he said. “She’s extremely high strung and very nervous about everything, where I’m extremely laid-back and casual. She takes care of a lot of detail-oriented stuff, and I keep her grounded.”

After graduating with a history degree in June, Fred moved home to Allentown, and took a job with a shipping company. Katie, who grew up in Kennett Square, graduated with her ecology degree a year later and became a limnologist — a scientist who studies inland fresh water systems — for Princeton Hydro. The couple got an apartment together midway, in Easton, where they lived until 2019, when Fred became a union pile driver with Local 474 in Philadelphia, and they and dog Molson moved to Souderton.

Both Katie, who is now 28, and Fred, now 30, play for the Doylestown Rugby Club, which fields men’s and women’s teams. “Playing such a high-contact sport, it is really nice having someone who understands what you go through and why,” said Katie. They head to practice together during the week, then “we have Saturday games and so on Sunday, we are dead tired and so sore and just need to chill.”

When not on the field, they usually hang out with friends, grill on their deck, or watch TV. They love occasional travel, especially when rugby is involved, as was the plan in October 2019 when they scheduled a trip to Japan centered around the Rugby World Cup.

“We had been planning this vacation for a year and a half. Then, days before we are supposed to go, we find out there is going to be a typhoon. I’m now, of course, panicking,” said Katie. To be clear: She was panicking that their flight would be canceled.

Fred remained calm. “There’s nothing you can do about the weather,” he said. Their flight was a go, but the first game they planned to see was canceled. “From our hotel, you could see these huge waves on the bay, but then it passed, and we got to see Japan and Scotland play the next day,” said Katie. Japan won, making it into the playoffs for the first time. In that jubilant atmosphere, the couple embarked on a weeklong bus tour of the country.

“Our tour guide had mentioned that a lot of times, you are not able to see the top of Mount Fuji, but when we went up there, it was perfectly clear and gorgeous,” Fred said. He had been carrying a ring everywhere, waiting for the right time, and this was sure hard to beat: Not only could they see the top of the mountain, but they were mostly alone — even the usual crowd of curious Japanese schoolkids who gathered to take photos of the big American guy with all the tattoos had dissipated.

Fred knelt and asked Katie to spend the rest of her life with him.

Katie loves tattoos as much Fred does. Their life stories are written in the ink, and they now have several matching or complementary images: Both have the Doylestown Rugby logo, both have tattoos of Mount Fuji marking their engagement, and both decided to forgo a metal wedding band for a ring finger tattoo instead. Several months before the wedding, they visited a tattoo artist who penned a nautical star matching Fred’s first tattoo on Katie’s finger, and a rose matching a tattoo of Katie’s on Fred’s.

On June 19, 2021, the couple exchanged vows on the observation deck in front of the bald eagles at the Elmwood Park Zoo. The ceremony, personalized with the couple’s love story, was led by Fred’s best friend, Alex, who was ordained online and flew in from California to do the honors. “He killed it,” said Fred. “He was dead set on making us cry, and the whole place was crying,” said Katie.

After the ceremony, the bride, groom, and their 72 guests got a chance to feed the giraffes. They shared cocktail hour with the jaguars. The couple wanted an outdoor wedding, but “neither one of us are country club people,” said Fred. “This had an entirely different feeling, and plus, it was very quickly apparent that it was going to make Katie really happy.”

Happy she was, especially when the day’s rain dried up. “If there had been any thunder, we would have had to move inside, and we would not have been able to feed the giraffes, for their safety,” she said. As the couple walked into their indoor reception, the skies opened in a downpour.

The day-of wondering about the weather was not nearly as stressful as wondering what COVID-19 might mean for their wedding plans, the couple said. “One of my oldest friends, who I grew up next to, now lives in Germany,” said Katie. “One and a half or two months before the wedding, she called and said, ‘I don’t think we can do it.’ But then three weeks before at 6 a.m. she called and said, ‘We’re vaccinated and we can come!’ ”

“It was nice to be able to have all of our family and friends — including those from California, Germany, and Kentucky — in the same spot,” said Fred. “It had been a long, long time.”

Katie and Fred are planning and saving for a 2023 honeymoon coinciding with the next Rugby World Cup. “We have our tickets already for the semifinal in Paris,” Katie said.