Downers Grove native gets engaged on 'American Ninja Warrior'
Charles Kim had a brief window in his workday to squeeze in a first date where all starry-eyed millennials go: Chipotle.
Nothing says romance quite like burritos, huh?
If Kim doesn't sound like a romantic in this tale, don't judge him solely on that opening date with Kristine Valenzuela.
They're now happily engaged after Kim demonstrated considerably more flair by finally popping the question during a spring taping of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior."
The proposal aired this week and capped an elaborate scheme that began last August, when Kim realized Valenzuela, who grew up in Downers Grove, was The One.
Because Kim is a flexible Ninja, he placed the round-cut, platinum-setting diamond ring on Valenzuela's finger not while on bended knee but while doing the splits in front of a crowd that went "nuts" on the sidelines of the show's infamous obstacle course.
"This was a one-man mission," the 29-year-old Chicago man said Wednesday. "It was tough to pull off."
How did they meet? Kim spotted Valenzuela on Tinder back in September 2014. It must have been fate, Kim says now, because her friends signed Valenzuela up for the dating app as a joke.
Kim noticed they had a lot of mutual friends and asked one of them to set up an introduction. They agreed to meet over lunch at Chipotle, where he made no secret that he had to travel frequently for work, logging some 80 to 90 flights a year as a technology consultant with clients around the globe.
Valenzuela, a busy nurse caring for patients recovering from organ transplants, could relate.
"The conversation flowed so well," Kim said. "It was just a very smooth interaction."
He liked her compassion. She liked his ambition.
"She's just a very giving person," Kim said. "She's always thinking about others as a nurse."
"He knew the little things that would make me happy," Valenzuela said. "He's so observant, and I know that I can rely on him."
Still, their schedules took a bit of a toll when the couple were "drifting apart" last summer. Kim can't remember what triggered an argument at the time, but he does remember they talked through it.
So on Aug. 13, Kim began planning for a special proposal. He knew she enjoyed scrapbooking and decided to create one with mementos he had saved during the course of their relationship: pictures, receipts, movie tickets.
That idea grew into a video documenting 258 days of memories. And if that wasn't charming enough, Kim is heard playing one of her favorite Disney tunes, "Beauty and the Beast," on the piano.
In front of the camera, Kim also explains how he wants to propose.
"I just want to make sure that it's the perfect moment," Kim says. "And I also want to make sure that there's a big audience. I want a lot of people watching. I want the eyes of the world to know how much I love you."
He found that audience when "American Ninja" producers invited him on the show, impressed by a video application of him doing yoga and calisthenics.
The big day finally arrived April 27, when the production taped Kim's turn on the obstacle course in Indianapolis. It didn't go exactly as he had envisioned.
Kim still had lingering pain from an ankle he broke in December. And in slippery conditions from the rain, Kim wasn't able to finish the course, falling off the "swinging spikes" and into a pool.
No matter. Kim got a towel and the engagement ring from his mom in the stands about 5 a.m.
"I was just shocked," Valenzuela said. "It wasn't registering in my head."
She, of course, said "yes," and the couple already have set a wedding date: Aug. 12, 2017, in Clearwater, Florida.
The bride-to-be got to see "part two" of the proposal when Kim unveiled his video scrapbook over the Memorial Day weekend. Valenzuela ended up crying for 10 minutes, Kim gushes.
"I just got really lucky," she said.