'Tournament of Roses Parade': Contest-winning couple prepares to say 'I do' on a float

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Farmers-Love-Float-Rose-Parade.bridal.jpgAt 9:34 a.m. Pacific time on New Year's Day, the charmed romance of Virginia residents Gerald Sapienza and Nicole Angelillo comes to a culmination as they exchange wedding vows during the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade atop Farmers Insurance's "The Love Float."

Winners of a national contest, the newlyweds-to-be grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same school -- their fathers even knew each other -- but never began dating until a decade later in 2006, when they connected through an online dating site that doesn't initially share last names or addresses.

It wasn't until a month after they began communicating that Angelillo realized the guy on the other side of the computer was the same boy she had a crush on from afar as a teen.

On the Friday before New Year's Day, Angelillo is surrounded by cameras and well-wishers in David's Bridal in Burbank, Calif. After showing off the final choice of dress and testing her ability to climb up a ladder, she sat down with Zap2it.

"When I said to him, 'Is your last name Sapienza?' ... I didn't think you could see a pause across a computer, but his typing stopped," she recalls. "We both stopped for a moment and paused. I would have loved to have seen his face on the other side of the computer."

Angelillo's story also speaks to the value of persistence.

"We had different experiences [online]," she says. "I was on the website for five or six months; he was on for four weeks. I was one of the very first matches he was sent, and I had been through match after match and had not gone through the first or second line of communication. He was the first one in months where I had gone through the fourth level."

FarmersLoveFloat.jpgRadio personality Sean Valentine (who tweeted the photo at right, of himself and the float) will conduct the ceremony, which features the bride in a spectacular designer dress by Oleg Cassini, chosen specifically to allow her to climb aboard the float and be secured with a harness. Along with the dress (a gift from David's Bridal), the couple was also provided with the groom's tuxedo and wedding rings.

Speaking of rings, Sapienza finally succeeded in proposing in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, after Angelillo managed to unwittingly torpedo two previous attempts (she loves that he knew her well enough to have backup plans). But that ring wasn't her first diamond.

"I so wanted to un-pressure him," she says, "that I went and bought my own diamond ring, that I wore on my hand for a while. I said, 'Look, no pressure -- I, as a woman, want a diamond before I'm 30 years old, so this is a little diamond. When I go out, you can feel comfortable that I'm your woman, I'm your lady, and then you're not pressured to give me a ring. When you're ready, you're ready, and you don't worry about me.'"

After winning the contest, Angelillo also did a little research on Netflix, catching up on the hit TLC show about brides picking out dresses (Angelillo's dress is pictured below).

Oleg-Cassini-Davids-Bridal.jpg"When this came about," she says, "I brushed up on 'Say Yes to the Dress.' I watched back-to-back episodes, because I finally got my chance to be the bride. I didn't want to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing."

Then, just as the contest started, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and Angelillo was frantically trying to get in touch with elderly relatives in Staten Island and New Jersey. After more than a week, she succeeded.

"My Nana didn't even know [about the contest]," she says. "I couldn't even tell her. This whole amazing process was going on, and I wanted to share it with her. She's just floored."

But, no matter how carefully something is planned, there's always a hitch in the proceedings. Angelillo works for a trucking company, but Sapienza does tropical-plant landscaping and maintenance.

Thumbnail image for Rose-Parade-Bride-ladder.jpg"Right now," the bride says, "he's got poison ivy. He got it four or five days ago. He keeps saying, 'Don't touch me!' But we got some Benadryl. He's like, 'It's OK, I'll dry up by the wedding day.'"

But she's also seen a positive effect on her fiance.

"To see Gerald," Angelillo says, "and to have his mother see him ... She always says, especially now, throughout the contest and the wedding, her son has blossomed. He used to be shy and reserved, and he didn't even like getting out and giving class presentations, so I like to think I bring out the best in him."

Angelillo hopes her story will act an inspiration for others and offer her a platform to do some good.

"I want to go out and help everybody," she says. "My worst fallback is I feel guilty. I've had such an amazing opportunity, and I haven't had time to go out and do more good for other people. As soon as this is done and over, I'll be able to go out and do it.

"When we were out shopping for our rings -- because Farmer's Insurance is buying our wedding bands -- we bought a teddy bear and donated it to Toys for Tots at the store. Any little thing I can do, I'm going to do.

"Being the eternal optimist, and when there are so many negative things going on, like the fiscal cliff, it's good to know that when times get tough, we can count on each other. That's the true meaning of it all."

The Tournament of Roses Parade -- with 2013 Grand Marshal Dr. Jane Goodall and the theme of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" -- can be seen, starting at 8 a.m. PT/11 a.m. ET, on ABC, the Hallmark Channel, HGTV, NBC, RFD-TV and Univision.

Photo/Video credit: Kate O'Hare, Sean Valentine, David's Bridal