Couple goes from the Web to wedding shells

This pair has a lot in common - including a Sept. 30 birthday. This year, they'll celebrate with a beach-themed wedding.

Published September 30, 2006

PORT RICHEY - When Cathy Thompson and Len Sawicki began chatting on AOL Instant Messenger four years ago, they didn't have high expectations.

Both divorcees, they hoped maybe to find a friend. They eventually started dating and fell in love.

Today, they'll share wedding vows and birthday wishes. She'll be 50. He'll be 57.

* * *

It began in early February 2002, when Cathy searched online profiles for people living near Janesville, Wis., where she lived.

Cathy, AOL sign-on cthomp7199, was a chatty blue-eyed blonde with a toothy smile. Her profile said she liked pool, shopping and travel. Back then she worked a desk job at the Rock County Courthouse. She'd gone to bars and concerts with her girlfriends, dated a little. No one stood out. Not yet.

Len Sawicki, AOL sign-on trilead (tech slang for cables that connect in the back of a computer), was living in Burlington, Wis. Len, an information technology worker, was sarcastic and tall. His profile said he liked to play pool, travel and go to the beach.

He was also single.

"I was looking for someone to talk to, and I saw this weird name, trilead," Cathy said. "I looked at his profile, and he sounded like someone who liked to do the same things. I e-mailed him, asked, 'Would you like to chat?' He said, 'Sure.' "

* * *

Their first online conversation went something like this:

cthomp7199: I'm not getting into a relationship right now, just looking for someone to talk with. I see you like to camp and play pool. I like to do that, too. When's your birthday?

trilead: Sept. 30

cthomp7199: Are you telling the truth? Mine is, too. That's so cool.

* * *

Soon, they decided to take things further.

trilead: I think I'd like to meet you.

cthomp7199: Sure. How about in the mall? Cherryvale Mall in Rockford (Illinois)?

trilead: That's great. What time?

cthomp7199: 1 p.m. on Valentine's Day

The plan was simple. Or so they thought.

They'd meet in the food court. Len was to wear a green shirt and black pants. Cathy wore a black jacket, glasses, her long blonde hair flowing past her shoulders. She brought a card and a CD, Celine Dion's I'm Your Angel.

Cathy searched for a man in a green shirt, but couldn't find Len.

Growing impatient, Cathy decided to stop by the Disney Store to get a gift for a friend. She didn't know it at the time, but Len was there, standing behind her in the store. He wore a green shirt, but it was paisley, not solid green. He didn't approach her. And she never saw him.

Cathy left the mall. On the way home, she threw the card out the window. "Jerk," she thought. She kept the CD for herself.

When she got home, Cathy got online. Len was online, too.

trilead: Were you wearing a black jacket, blonde hair, and sitting on a wooden bench checking your watch?

cthomp7199: Yeah, that was me.

trilead: Did you go into the Disney store?

cthomp7199: Yeah! How come you didn't come up to me?

trilead: I didn't know for sure if it was you. You want to try again?

cthomp7199: We'll meet at the same place, but at the front door.

That meeting, on Feb. 21, 2002, was "love at first sight," Cathy said. Soon, the two were inseparable. He took her to dinners, movies and concerts. She got butterflies in her stomach every time he pulled up to her apartment.

A few times, they traveled to Florida, where Len used to live and where some of Cathy's friends were. On one trip in August 2002, Cathy decided to buy a house in Port Richey as a real estate investment.

The two continued dating. In the fall of 2005, Len proposed.

They set the date as Sept. 30 - their birthday - and moved into the Port Richey house last year.

"I said I wanted to get married on my birthday, so I only have one date to remember," Len said.

* * *

The wedding's theme is shells, since they both love the beach.

Edible shells will sit atop the wedding cake. There are matching wine glasses with shells glued to the stems. Shells line the border of the 88 invitations. They're even getting married at Shells - a seafood restaurant in Clearwater.

With their wedding, they've learned to ignore online dating naysayers.

"I hesitate to tell people (how they met) because it gets such bad press," Cathy said. "But I don't care. I'm still in a daze."