Sometimes love gently approaches you, and other times it slaps you on the head.
It took a volleyball to the face to make Jane Handel seek medical advice from friends who are physical therapists.
Jane has played volleyball most of her life, from her early days at St. A’s, then at Evanston Township High School (class of ’08), and then became an All-American at Middlebury College in Vermont. But despite so many times on the volleyball court, a hit she took in a game in the summer of 2017 worried her. “I had never been hit so hard in the face!” she remembered.
Afraid of having suffered a concussion, Jane ventured to a Lincoln Park area restaurant called Butcher & the Burger for a diagnosis of her injury. Jane’s friends and acquaintances that night included physical therapist Ryan Breen.
Jane and Ryan initially met in December 2016 on the Santa Hunt, a pub crawl that has participants spot Santa Claus at various Chicago bars. And that summer night – after it was determined that Jane had not, in fact, suffered a concussion – the two sat on the patio and talked for a long time.
“It didn’t feel like the first time we met. It was really good,” said Jane. That summer, the two solidified their friendship and began dating steadily.
Ryan, who attended Ball State and then attended school of physical therapy at Rosalind Franklin University in north Chicago, is a physical therapist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Jane is expected to start as a business analyst for the Grant Street Group.
Jane is the daughter of Kelli and Bill Handel of Evanston. Ryan is the son of Dave and Vanessa Breen of Indianapolis.
Jane and Ryan dated regularly for four years before their engagement. But they met each other’s families early on in their relationship.
“We knew quickly that ‘you are my person,’” Ryan said.
When his parents came to Chicago for a visit, Ryan arranged for them to meet Jane. Although they hadn’t been dating for a long time, he felt it was necessary for his family to meet his girlfriend. Ryan said he remembered thinking, “If this relationship continues the way I think it is, I’d better introduce her to my parents.”
Jane comes from a large family on both sides, and at a cousin’s engagement party, Ryan met some of her extended family as well.
The couple had been dating for a year when they embarked on a European adventure that cemented things for Jane.
“We went on an international trip a year after dating and I was joking thinking, ‘Will we be able to survive this?’” she recalled. But after a fantastic vacation in Prague, Vienna and Budapest, Jane said she thought, “This solidified everything, we’re probably going to get married.”
To further their commitment, Jane and Ryan adopted a puppy (Thor) in January 2021. As Thor continued to grow, they soon realized, “Yeah, that’s not going to work. We need a bigger place,” said Jane. Soon after, Jane and Ryan bought a condo together in Chicago, giving Thor room to roam.
When it came time for a proposal, Ryan involved Jane’s parents and sister Colleen Handel. The chosen location was the lawn of the Waveland tennis court in Lakeview, where Ryan had planned a picnic, including, of course, Thor.
Ryan wanted the proposal to be photographed, so to disguise themselves, Kelli, Bill and Colleen donned wigs and costumes. Colleen needed a strategic viewing area to take pictures and had to indulge in a friendly softball team that was also in the park. It was a much larger audience then, as everyone expected Ryan to propose.
As you would on a picnic, Jane decided to completely relax and enjoy the moment. The softball team was not happy. “This is not happening, he is not doing this! She’s lying down!” they said.
Ryan finally persuaded her to get up and he got down on one knee and proposed. The family managed to capture the special moment on film – although Jane and Ryan at first didn’t recognize the three well-disguised “strangers” when they came out to congratulate the couple.
Following the proposal, everyone headed to a local restaurant, Cedar Palace, where many friends and family were waiting to celebrate with them. “It was amazing, like a mini-mini wedding,” said Jane.
The ceremony and reception took place on July 2 at Café Brauer, with Cassie Vasileff, the bride’s aunt, officiating. Colleen Handel was maid of honor and Nevin Vijay was best man.
The “wedding was so smooth, everything was amazing,” Jane said. Rush Street Rhythm did the music for the 190 guests. “Wow, they are amazing. They nailed it on every song,” said Jane. “We danced for three hours straight, no kidding!”
The couple’s friend Tina Karakas of Bake it with Tina made a small cake for the couple, which they kept for themselves. “We serve ice cream bars and popsicles the old-fashioned way as a great summer dessert,” said Jane.
In the game of life, love and volleyball, Jane and Ryan are partners with each other.
“Ryan and I had the opportunity to travel together and explore new places before we were married,” said Jane. “We can’t wait to continue doing this in the future as well. Everything is more fun when we are together.”
Editor’s Note: Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present “They Do”, a glimpse into the love stories and celebrations of commitment from local readers and their relatives.
To marry? We want to hear all about your love story and share it with the RoundTable community. This is a free storytelling service by Roundtable. Please contact us if you have a marriage announcement you’d like to share, please include your name, your partner’s name, and an email address. We’ll be in touch to spread the love.