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A ‘Vintage Potomac’ Relationship

Valentine's Day

Fraternizing with the enemy coach for 45 minutes of a swim meet? What flopped as a coaching strategy proved a long-term romantic success for Chris Dugan and Megan Shelley, a Silver Spring couple who both grew up in Potomac, got engaged in Potomac, and next October, will get married in Potomac.

THE FATEFUL ENCOUNTER was at the 1999 Montgomery County Swim League All-Star meet, when Chris was an assistant coach for River Falls and Megan Shelley was head coach of Dale View.

They’d met before. He lived in River Falls, and Megan had moved with her family to Potomac Falls when she was 12. Both swam with the Curl Burke Swim Club, but that was back when Chris was 13, and Megan, a 15-year-old, was too far out of his league to consider.

At poolside in 1999, Chris was no longer daunted by the age gap. He made a bet with his fellow River Falls coach, the late Heather Wilson, that he could get Megan’s number. He won. “We totally hit it off …”

“… for 45 minutes. I missed two of my kids swimming,” Megan said.

From that moment on, Chris and Megan never lost touch, but nothing romantic resulted for two years. Chris (Walt Whitman High School ‘98) was entering his sophomore year at University of Maryland, College Park; while Megan (Washington Waldorf School ‘96) was about to start her senior year at Bates College.

They called and instant-messaged each other often through the next two years, first from college, then for a half-year when Megan lived in New York. “We definitely had feelings for each other … but we repressed it,” she said.

“I honestly believe the reason why our relationship is so successful is that we established our friendship in the beginning,” Chris said.

AN APPLE PIE brought things to a new level on Valentine’s Day 2001. By then, Megan had returned home and was working on Capitol Hill. Chris, a senior at Maryland, invited Megan over for dinner at his apartment, a less-than-romantic setting with all of his roommates present. He cooked a steak, she made mashed potatoes.

Chris also went out on a limb by making apple pie from scratch. “I have no culinary skills whatsoever. … I’m the stereotypical brute,” he said. But he knew enough to carve an ‘M’ for Megan in the pie crust, and everything came together. “It actually turned out to be incredible," he said. "It was divine intervention.”

They became a full-fledged item. Five months later, Megan was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “That was a really, really trying experience to go through,” Chris said. “There are a lot of … stars and moons that have to cross for a relationship to take hold. … And then Megan came down with cancer.”

The cancer was very isolated, and doctors told Megan that thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable types. They stayed together through her treatment. “Chris was a huge support,” Megan said. “It was an amazing and important turn in our relationship.”

CHRIS PROPOSED to Megan beside Great Falls last September. “We go hiking every once in a while along there,” he said. “It’s just a nice, peaceful place for me. … I knew I wanted to propose there if I could.”

He’d planned a specific spot, but as they walked to a dramatic overlook near Swains Lock, he saw there was nobody around, and asked her there. “He totally surprised me,” Meagan said.

Her parents were in on it, though. When they returned to Megan’s home, champagne and an array of lit candles awaited them. They celebrated at Old Angler’s Inn that night, and flew to Belize the next day for a vacation they’d already planned — a pre-honeymoon.

Megan, now 27, works for the American Cancer Society, but will move on at the end of the month to Smith, Fairfield, a public relations and events firm. Chris, now 25, is an executive manager at Citi Financial in Baltimore.

They live together in Silver Spring, and they will get married in October at the Potomac Falls home where Megan grew up, close to where Chris lived in River Falls, and the river where they proposed. “A lot of it was very vintage, very signature Potomac,” Chris said.