From Cancer to Canyon: A UCF Love Story
By Camille Dolan ’98
A Chance Meeting
When Nelson Beverly ’04 and Christina Grace ’04 met in 2000 at a UCF Campus Crusade for Christ event, Nelson was smitten, Christina, perhaps, less so.
There was something about the tall, skinny young man, however. The two talked for a while.
The two UCF freshmen shared a Central Florida connection; Christina had grown up in Altamonte Springs, Nelson came from a long line of Sanfordonians.
Christina was a serious student and had been admitted to the prestigious Burnett Honors College. She was studying the relatively new field of digital media.
Nelson, who was set to take over the reins of his family’s well-established automotive business, Harrell & Beverly Transmission & Auto Repair, minored in business, and cobbled together enough courses in engineering, graphic design and other disciplines to earn a degree in liberal studies, or what is now called Interdisciplinary Studies.
They continued to chat at CRU events and began discovering similar interests and cultivating a deep friendship.
A Growing Friendship
“He kind of weaved his way into our friend group,” Christina says.
“I would talk to her friends and tell them that I like Christina, and ask them, ‘do you think we’d be a good match?'” Nelson says. “I was shy, I was nervous back then.”
About a year later, Nelson mustered up the courage via a napkin to ask Christina to a dance. He was being “romantically methodical,” he says.
A picture from the event shows the couple, Nelson with the biggest smile, Christina, beautiful in her black formal dress. Still, the two were just friends until a year later.
Nelson had decided to go big. He spent the day planning a “scavenger hunt” on campus. When he picked up Christina at her apartment, her roommate’s mother happened to be there and pretended to be Christina’s mother. It was just a joke that they played on the nervous Nelson, but it nearly derailed his plans.
The Next Level
Christina wasn’t sure where they were going, but they ended up at their favorite spot, UCF. Nelson drove up to the second or third floor of a parking garage, even though there were plenty of spaces on the first floor.
Christina was confused. Maybe it was his favorite parking spot, maybe she was getting kidnapped. She wasn’t sure.
As they walked down the stairs, Nelson suddenly reached over the side of the outside wall, as if he were going to leap over.
Then, he produced a gorgeous bouquet of flowers that he had stashed there earlier, directing Christina to the Reflecting Pond, and to a specific bench.
It was a beautiful spring evening, and when they arrived at the bench, Nelson reached under it and pulled out a letter for Christina. In it, he told her how much he enjoyed being around her, and if she didn’t want to be his girlfriend, to crumple up the letter and throw it into the iconic pond.
She briefly – but not very seriously – considered doing exactly that, but then she told Nelson the words he had waited so long to hear. “Sure, I’d love to be your girlfriend.”
And then they went to Wackadoo’s Sports Bar and Grill for foosball and air hockey.
When Nelson brought his new girlfriend back to her apartment, he made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, her favorite.
Life After Graduation
They continued their relationship, until it took a turn in 2004. Nelson graduated first, followed by Christina a semester later.
“I went to her parents without her knowing and asked for her hand in marriage,” Nelson recalls.
They had previously made plans to celebrate the anniversary of their first date at Wackadoo’s, so Nelson schemed to create a memorable proposal.
First, they had sushi, where Nelson got a shell stuck in his tooth and began bleeding profusely and had to excuse himself to deal with that, and kept excusing himself after using the same ruse to coordinate phone calls with his parents and his future in-laws.
Nelson told Christina that he was going to surprise her with fireworks at Disney World; he had planned a helicopter trip over the Magic Kingdom. Sounds romantic, but the helicopter was not air-conditioned, and the small enclosure and constant circling of the chopper did not mesh well with Christina’s sushi dinner.
The fireworks were beautiful, but when they landed, mercifully, Christina barely noticed her parents, his parents, and the sign that was asking, “Will you marry me?” on the ground.
She said yes, of course. Later she joked with him that she said yes just to get off the helicopter.
Christina and Nelson were married in 2005. Christina has been working at UCF as a graphic artist since 2004, and Nelson is still working in his family’s business in Sanford. Nelson also continues to make his wife’s favorite sandwich, and they continue to share many adventures.
Life’s Twists and Turns
Like the time in 2010 they co-founded the Love Your Shorts Film Festival with Gene Kruckemyer, Nancy Kruckemyer and Frank Loose. Nelson had always had an interest in film; when he was at UCF, he had applied to its film school.
“I didn’t get in,” Nelson says. “So when the film festival opportunity came around, we looked at each other and said, ‘yeah, let’s do it!’”
The couple said they always try to take advantage of opportunities that come their way, often those opportunities come in the form of travel. They’ve been to the United Kingdom, Iceland, big cities and small, and they really enjoy traveling to the mountains.
A poster detailing the adventures of Christina and Nelson fills a wall in their home. Tiny pins dot the map of the US. Of particular interest to the couple are the pins in the southwest. It represents a journey they took after Christina completed cancer therapy for Ewing Sarcoma cancer. Usually known as a cancer that affects bones, Christina’s presented as a tumor on her pancreas in 2020. Less than 30 cases like Christina’s have been documented worldwide.
The treatment involved five days of inpatient chemotherapy followed by outpatient chemotherapy for nine months. It was grueling, but it had to be to shrink the tumor so that it could be removed surgically. Surgeons removed half of her pancreas, her gallbladder, and other “bits and pieces that you didn’t know you had,” Christina says. “The surgery is called a Whipple procedure, and it’s supposedly one of the more difficult surgeries to perform.”
Nelson’s work – now the co-owner at the family business, along with his brother – and Christina’s UCF family told them sternly to not worry about anything, and to focus on their health.
“That was a great blessing,” Nelson says. “We drove back and forth to Tampa numerous times over her nine-month treatment, and then surgery. It was definitely an ordeal that you don’t expect at 39 years old.”
“One star – do not recommend,” quipped Christina.
To celebrate her “Whipple anniversary” in 2022, Nelson and Christina decided to visit the Grand Canyon while falling out of a perfectly good airplane.
“Nelson suggested it years ago, but one night I woke up and thought, I’ve been through chemo, I’ve been through surgery, I’ve been through all this crap. I feel like the easiest thing to do at this point is to jump out of a freaking airplane.”
The video: “When you watch the video, he’s the one who’s like nervous and scared,” Christina says. “I’m just like, lets’ do this. Let’s go.”
Still Going Strong
Christina and Nelson have documented their journey on her personal blog to serve as a resource for people who don’t want to talk about cancer.
“I very much want to talk about it to help with awareness, and to help doctors know how we’re feeling because the chemo regimen that I went through is the same regimen that was developed decades ago. Nothing has changed. Nothing has improved. And because we have these rare cancers, not as much attention is paid to them.”
Christina and Nelson focus on the positives: they’ve had five clear scans, and their goal is to get to 11 total, which will take them up to a five-year period. They are also looking forward to traveling to England this May for the coronation of King Charles III. It remains to be seen what other surprises Nelson has in store for Christina – or vice versa. No skydiving – at least for now.