Cabin John couple marries at Calleva after meeting as camp counselors

Photo by Chris Knowles

The couple: Athina Olsen (maiden name Nungovitch), 31, moved to Darnestown with her family when she was 10 years old. She graduated from Northwest High School in Germantown and is a Bethesda-based therapist. Duncan Olsen, 32, grew up in Silver Spring and moved to McLean, Virginia, before starting high school. He is the director of camps at Calleva Virginia, which is part of Calleva, an outdoor adventure organization in Poolesville. They live in Cabin John.

How they met: During the summer of 2008, Athina and Duncan worked together at Calleva in Poolesville. Athina was in charge of arts and crafts, and Duncan led campers on rock climbing treks. “We were both dating people at the time,” Duncan says. “But we met each other and…I felt like there was something there.” By the end of the summer, they had become good friends. Three years later, they were both Calleva mountain biking instructors for the summer. Athina had a realization: “Man, he’s really cute.” At a friend’s party later that summer, they decided they would try dating.

The first date: The two went canoeing, starting at Riley’s Lock and paddling down the Potomac River. “I was trying to guide and I was very bad at it,” Athina says. “I took us into a wall and a couple trees.” Still, they had fun. Two weeks later, their boss at Calleva paired them to lead a group of middle school aged boys on a weeklong backpacking trip through the West Virginia wilderness. “[I was] like, ‘Bro, we started dating like two weeks ago. You had to put us out in the woods with 12 eighth graders for a week?’ And he’s like, ‘Yep,’ ” Duncan says. They kept their relationship secret from the boys—and made it through the week as a couple.

Photo by Chris Knowles

The proposal: Athina lost her mother in 2019. A month later, on Athina’s birthday, Duncan sent her out for the day to “do something nice” for herself and get a pedicure. After he got home from work, he rushed around their apartment, setting up candles and flowers. When Athina got home, she noticed the decorations and assumed they were for her birthday. She hugged Duncan, thanking him for the surprise. “His pulse was beating out of his neck,” Athina says, “and I was like, ‘Are you OK? …Is something about to happen?’ ” Duncan got down on one knee. Athina says that what meant the most was that Duncan had asked her mother and father for their blessing before her mother died.

Photo by Chris Knowles

The COVID-19 impact: In 2019, Athina and Duncan began planning for a May 2020 wedding. They wanted two weddings—one at Calleva’s farm and another in Volos, Greece, where Athina’s family has a home. The pandemic forced the couple to postpone the wedding to September and reduce their guest list significantly. “It was definitely tough because there were so many people we wanted to be there,” Duncan says.

The wedding: The couple wed on Sept. 5, 2020, at the Calleva farm in Poolesville. They had 45 guests.

The ceremony: Their garden ceremony didn’t need much decorating because the flowers had bloomed and the raspberry bushes were full and ready for harvest. Before he started to walk down the aisle, Duncan says, he could feel tears coming. He struggled to even say his vows, which was unexpected for him. Athina gave him a reassuring hug at the altar. “Athina was like a robot during the ceremony,” Duncan says. “I’m like crying, trying to get myself together, I can’t read my vows, and Athina is staring at me.” The ceremony was officiated by Matt Markoff, director of Calleva. The couple included the Greek wedding tradition of a crowning ceremony, with white crowns placed on the bride’s and groom’s heads. The crowns are tied together with a white ribbon, symbolizing unity. Athina’s father recited the prayer in Greek and switched the crowns back and forth on the couple’s heads.

Photo by Chris Knowles

Shining light: The two planned a candle-lighting ceremony in memory of Athina’s mother. They had taken inspiration from Athina’s father, who lights a candle every day for her. Athina’s two brothers carried a candle and a photo of their mother down the aisle. At dinner, Athina and her brothers used that flame to light the rest of the candles in the venue.

The reception: In the field next to the garden, the celebration continued with dinner and dancing. Instead of traditional wedding speeches, Athina and Duncan had asked for marriage and relationship advice, and guests shared their wisdom.

Photo by Chris Knowles

Team effort: The couple’s friends played a role in many aspects of the wedding. “I think that in some ways, weddings have become this big somewhat impersonal thing and … it was important to both of us that it just be really personal,” Athina says. Their Calleva friend Eric Hill was the main chef, and Athina and Duncan collaborated with him on the menu: crab soup, feta and watermelon salad, lamb chops and risotto with scallops. Another friend, Andrew Pratt, set up the lighting. Athina’s sorority sister Arielle Ergas designed the art for the RSVP card, menu and wedding program.

Photo by Chris Knowles

The honeymoon: The newlyweds drove to Maine for their honeymoon. They stayed on the coast in Stonington and hiked in Acadia National Park. They hoped that by their one-year wedding anniversary they could travel to Greece for a honeymoon 2.0, but Athina is pregnant and due in January, so they decided to hold off until it’s safe for her to travel.

Vendors: Almond cake, Vie de France Potomac; flowers, Gypsy Flower Farm; hair and make-up, Becky Watson of Oxygen Salon; lighting, Pratt’s Holiday Lighting; photographer, Chris Knowles.