Shaka Ballantyne did not initially want to apply for the tent. He doesn’t like videos or being on camera, but the competition — which offered a free rental tent worth up to $40,000 — required a video submission. His fiancé, Shannon Nigg, coaxed him into entering, as the couple started to plan their wedding mere days after their engagement.
In a fashion that has become typical of weddings in the era of COVID, the Middle Island couple hoped to hold a backyard ceremony. Some of their colleagues sent details about a competition from NY Tent, a rental tent company that was holding a Healthcare Hero Wedding Giveaway for a Long Island couple who served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the pandemic, we kind of thought we could just have a wedding in my parents’ backyard and to have a beautiful tent would work perfectly,” Ms. Nigg said.
They won by a margin of more than 1,000 votes — Ms. Nigg said people in random places would recognize them and say they voted for them.
“It was a cool experience because we had so many people … that we knew, that we didn’t know, friends of friends come up to us like, you know, we voted for you!” Mr. Ballantyne said.
But the generosity didn’t stop there. The couple was surprised with a free venue at Brecknock Hall in Greenport and services from a wedding planner, and later, donations from dozens of vendors.
“I guess even more vendors heard about it and then they just kept tag teaming along,” Ms. Nigg said. “Between the dessert companies, four florists, North Fork Bridal — they donated half for my dress, they donated my veil — everything. It’s unreal, the amount of generosity from this entire thing.”
Brecknock Hall, in partnership with Peconic Landing, usually hosts a Veterans Day Wedding Giveback each year. Stalled by the pandemic in 2021, a spokesperson for Peconic Landing said the organization decided to join the NY Tent competition by offering Brecknock Hall as a venue to the winning couple. The wedding coordinator also volunteered services to the winners of the competition and more vendors joined from there.
The couple said even now, people are still gifting goods and services for their wedding. After talking about the wedding at a dentist appointment, Ms. Nigg’s dentist donated free teeth whitening to the couple.
“So, they look really good!” she added, flashing a luminescent smile. “More and more people just kind of hopped on board and said, how can I give back?”
“I would love to meet half the people who were behind the scenes,” Mr. Ballantyne said. “That’s the tough part. We met a few of the vendors, but I don’t think we’ve met all of them, so that would be a great thing to experience.”
The radiologic technologists met in 2016, at Boardy Barn in Hampton Bays — “the last place where you think you’re going to meet the love of your life,” Ms. Nigg said.
“I saw her like a few times that day, you know, we just kept running into each other,” Mr. Ballantyne said. “And it was so packed in there, the odds of running into someone, three or four times is like, really slim. So, I approached her the first time, you know, we talked, and then I ran into her again … We kept talking and at the end of the evening, we were leaving, and I saw her, and we happened to strike a conversation.”
Ms. Nigg was attending college in Tampa, Florida and Mr. Ballantyne was out of the school at the time, but both were looking to move into the medical field. They exchanged numbers and kept in touch. They had similar interests, similar goals, morals and values — “it was very easy to strike a relationship with her,” Mr. Ballantyne said.
They dated long distance for about a year, and when Ms. Nigg was back on Long Island, they both applied for a two-year X-ray tech program at Peconic Bay Medical Center. They were accepted into the program, where they pretended they didn’t know each other at first — but people started catching on that they were a couple.
2020, the year of the pandemic outbreak on Long Island, was their first full year as X-ray techs out of school. Mr. Ballantyne worked full-time at Stony Brook University Hospital and per diem at Eastern Long Island and Southampton. Ms. Nigg worked full-time at PBMC and per diem at Southampton.
“People that have been seasoned and that worked for 20 years would look at us and say, I wonder how you guys are feeling because I’ve never experienced this in my whole 20 years,” Ms. Nigg said.
Mr. Ballantyne called it a “humbling experience.”
“We got into the field to help people in times of need. We were given the best opportunity to do it,” he said. “It was good to be at the forefront of it. It’s a great story to look back on, even though it was so negative and such a gray time.”
Ms. Nigg pointed out they were both young and healthy. She acknowledged that before they bought their own home in October, they had to be mindful about coming home to their parents during the pandemic, but they’re grateful it didn’t have a stronger impact on them.
“It was work as usual,” Mr. Ballantyne said.
Now, despite a rise in cases fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, life is returning to a semi-normal. Vaccinated people can gather in crowds and large-scale events, including weddings, are making a comeback.
The couple is getting married on Saturday, July 31. They’re excited to finally tie the knot, and they’re grateful for the outpouring of generosity from their community.
“One of the big things for us is, you know, is our faith,” Ms. Nigg said. “And I don’t know, just to solidify that union between me, him and God is just something that I really, really look forward to. I’ve been waiting for this. And I’ve been praying for a man like him all my life, so to finally be able to do that on Saturday, it’s a dream come true.”