Bradenton couple finds love and Champagne at the finish line

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- At Lakewood Ranch, Leah Patten ran 13.1 miles Sunday to discover a truly life-changing moment at the finish line.

Her boyfriend, Justin Hessinger, with whom she had just run the Suncoast Half Marathon, dropped to one knee and offered a marriage proposal and a ring.

Shocked, Patten was momentarily speechless, but after a big hug and a kiss, she regained her composure enough to answer "yes."

"Oh my God, yes," she told a reporter a few minutes later, when asked what her feelings were.

On her hand was a new, sparkling diamond engagement ring Hessinger produced after the couple crossed the finish line together on Lakewood Ranch's Main Street.

Patten, 29, a nurse, and Hessinger, 28, a Manatee County paramedic, both from Bradenton, were joined in their celebration by family and friends.

Their welcoming com

mittee unrolled a big banner that read: "Leah Will You Marry Me?" They also brought Champagne with little glasses to toast the newly engaged couple.

Patten said she had been seeing Hessinger for two years.

More than 400 people took part in the race on a picture-perfect, mostly sunny day with temperatures comfortably in the 60s.

Proceeds benefit the Active Suncoast Foundation, which advocates active, healthy lifestyles, said Karen Haynes, founder, executive director and race director.

The overall male winner was Corey Peyerk, who finished in 1:19:30. The overall female winner was Heather Butcher, who finished in 1:27:12, according to race results.

Complete race results can be found at coolrunning.com/results/15/fl/Jan25_Suncoa_set1.shtml.