Mystery photographer catches marathon proposal

A New Jersey couple who got engaged during the New York City Marathon were thrilled to learn first-hand the power of social media, after a Facebook post searching for the woman who captured their engagement on camera went viral and led them to that perfect shot.

Katie Mascenik, 25, was preparing to cheer on her boyfriend Joe Duarte, 44, as he dashed by mile 17 when the runner did an about-face and rushed toward her.

“He’s going past us and he does a U-turn to come back,” Mascenik told INSIDE EDITION. “He gives me a hug, says ‘I love you’ and he gets down on one knee and he whips out the ring. I was like 'what?!’"

As quickly as he appeared, he was gone again, she said.

“I gave him a kiss and he just ran,” she laughed. “I thought ‘Oh man, I hope he runs really fast now! I just wanted to celebrate with him and be with him.”

The brief moment caught the bride-to-be and those with her off-guard, as friends and family were only able to snap two pictures before the ring-baring runner was off.

“I wasn’t even thinking about pictures,” Mascenik said. “My fiancé didn’t tell anyone about the proposal, so no one knew anything about it. After, I thought ‘Oh man, I should’ve asked everyone there. Why didn’t I think of that?’”

But the pictures showed that another marathon spectator captured an up-close shot of the momentous event, which the couple’s loved ones urged them to try to find.

“With social media, you never know what could happen,” Mascenik said. “I thought I might as well give it a try.”

The couple issued a plea on Facebook to try to find the mysterious photographer.

“I had no idea how big it had gotten. So many people were reaching out, saying ‘Oh, I love your story!’ Mascenik said of the search. “Then someone said, ‘I think that’s my friend (who took the picture).’ I was getting nervous thinking maybe she deleted the picture.”

But the photographer, Val Ferrara, 33, never dreamed of getting rid of the photo, she told INSIDE EDITION.

“I had six friends running the race. I had just seen my friend run by… and I was just kind of ready to take a photo and all of a sudden this guy bent down on his knee!” she said to IE.

When she realized what was happening, she just kept snapping pictures, the Manhattanite said.

“I was so excited and I went to give them to who I now know is Katie, but she and a friend ran off! They left immediately,” she said. “I ran back to… my friends, said ‘oh my god! Look what just happened!’"

Ferrara posted one of the photos to her Instagram account and went about her business, traveling to Buffalo for work. But the social media search eventually reached her.

“I had like 20 text messages from friends,” Ferrara said, noting friends from all across the country were reaching out to tell her about Mascenik’s search.

“I was so happy that we got connected… My favorite part is being called the ‘elusive girl in blue spandex,’” she laughed. “And I think the marathon is a great day and event to bring a lot of people together.” 

Within days of the start of the search, the newly-engaged couple had their picture.

“It means, honestly, the world. Every time I look at it, I get giddy,” Mascenik said. “You can see how much he loves me, how much I love him, how happy we are.

“This experience, this was going to be a day I would have never forgotten, but… it really is phenomenal and I’m so happy it worked out the way it did,” Mascenik said. “It’s going to be something I’m going to be really excited to show and tell my kids one day.”

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