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Jardine: Proposal comes with a wee twist

Daniel Versola planned it all out: the time, the place, the event.

When you're about to propose marriage to the woman of your dreams, you want it to be memorable, right?

The traditional knees-on-the-floor still works in the last 30 seconds of a football game, but it's sort of passé when it comes to popping the question. So you look to create a moment.

Boy, did Versola and girlfriend Tiffnie Akiona have their moment. So what if they offer slightly different takes on how it happened, exactly.

That, as most married couples will tell you, makes them perfect for each other.

He's 27 and a virtual chief information officer for a local tech company.

"That's a fancy name for project manager," said Versola, who graduated from Johansen High in 1999.

She's 26 and works at Modesto Junior College in a federally funded program that serves first-generation students from low-income families. Akiona lived in Hawaii before moving to Modesto, graduating from Modesto High, MJC and attending California State University, Stanislaus.

They began dating in September after meeting through mutual friends.

Eight days ago, they started to hike up Yosemite's Half Dome as part of an annual fund-raising event his employer, ITSolutions/ Currie, stages for the Howard Training Center. Except that Akiona, feeling shaky because of altitude sickness, decided to pass on the last climb to the top -- the famous cable ascent.

"I'd been up there three times, but I hadn't done it in five years," she said. "I'm not in the best shape, but I am active and I should have been able to hang. I wasn't expecting the altitude sickness."

She knew soon into the all-day trek that she probably wouldn't make it to the top.

"Saturday (June 20) was the clumsiest day of my life," she said. "I fell on the stairs that go up to the sub dome. I pulled a muscle in my right leg."

That was just for starters. When they reached the sub dome, she told him to go on up with the others in their group. She could go no farther.

So Versola climbed.

"I fell asleep," she said.

He reached the top, but instead of hanging around to enjoy the view, Versola headed back down to rejoin her.

As she brought out their lunches, Versola reminded her of a conversation they'd had -- he said it took place the night before, she said it happened a week before.

Details, details.

"She's from Hawaii," Versola said. "She said (Yosemite) is the second- most beautiful place in the world. She's talked about beaches in Hawaii being the most beautiful. I told her, 'What would make it even more special would be if you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me.' "

He opened the lid of a small box, revealing a glistening one-carat diamond engagement ring.

Nice work, indeed. Except that in their excitement, the box hit the ground. Here again, they offer different stories.

Versola said Akiona knocked it out his hand when she went to hug him in the glee of the moment.

Her version? As intended, his proposal caught her completely by surprise. She thought he was joking.

"I hit him and said, 'Shut up! Are you serious?' " Akiona said.

And before he could answer, his life -- real, future and financial -- flashed before his eyes. The box went one way, the ring went another.

"The ring popped out," he said. "It went rolling down sub dome. There was nothing to stop it. It was picking up momentum. It rolled 15, 20, 25 feet. I'd been saving up for it for a long time. I'm thinking, 'I can't believe this is happening.' "

He scrambled after it, every panicky step of the way.

"It slid a good 25 feet," Akiona said. "If it would have gone over the ledge, it would have been gone, and I probably would have been next. It would have been so awful."

"It could have gone off (the mountain)," Versola said. "The elevations were that steep."

Or it could have fallen into some deep fissure, prompting Versola to go fetch a roll of 6-pound test line, a barbed hook and attempt to fish the ring out.

Fortunately, Versola caught up with it in time. Relieved, he picked the ring up and walked right back to her.

Marriage proposal, take two:

"He stood in front of me and said it again," Akiona said. " 'Will you spend the rest of your life with me?' "

This time, she said "Yes." No flailing, no ring a-flying.

Later, they noticed it had some scratch marks. She wanted to leave them.

"For sentimental reasons," she said.

He wanted everything perfect, though. And besides, the ring needed to be sized.

"It fit my thumb," Akiona said.

They descended the mountain and marked the occasion with champagne and pizza at Curry Village. They'll eventually set a wedding date for sometime in 2010.

Thus, the clumsiest day of Akiona's life turned out to be among her best. Versola's, too.

Just as he planned it, right?

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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