Sometimes love gently sneaks up on you, and other times it smacks you in the head.

It took a volleyball to the face to get Jane Handel to seek out medical advice from friends who are physical therapists.

Jane has played volleyball most of her life, from early days at St. A’s, then at Evanston Township High School (Class of ’08), and then on to become an All-American at Middlebury College in Vermont. But despite so many times on the volleyball court, a hit she took at a game in summer 2017 worried her. “I had never been hit that hard in the face!” she recalled.

Ryan Breen and Jane Handel in front of the Butcher & the Burger restaurant. Credit: Erika Mattingly

Fearful that she had sustained a concussion, Jane ventured out to a Lincoln Park area restaurant called Butcher & the Burger for a diagnosis of her injury. Jane’s friends and acquaintances that evening included physical therapist Ryan Breen.

Jane and Ryan had initially met in December 2016 at the Santa Hunt, a pub crawl that has participants locate Santa in various Chicago bars. And that summer night – after it was determined that Jane had not, in fact, suffered a concussion – the two of them sat out on the patio and talked for a long time.

”It didn’t feel like the first time meeting each other. It was very nice,” said Jane. That summer, the two solidified their friendship and began dating steadily.

Ryan, who went to Ball State and then physical therapy school at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago, is a physical therapist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Jane is set to begin as a business analyst for 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 steadily for four years prior to their engagement. But they met each other’s families early in the relationship.

“We knew pretty quickly that ‘you’re my person,’” said Ryan.

When his parents came to Chicago for a visit, Ryan arranged for them to meet Jane. Although they hadn’t been dating long, he felt it was necessary for his family to meet his girlfriend. Ryan said he remembered thinking, “If this relationship is going to keep going the way I think it is, I better introduce her to my parents.”

Jane comes from a large family on both sides, and at a cousin’s engagement party Ryan met part of her extended family early on 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 jokingly thinking, ‘Are we going to be able to survive this?’” she recalled. But after a fantastic vacation to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, Jane said she thought, “That 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, “Yep, this isn’t 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. 

Ryan Breen and Jane Handel in Lincoln Park. Credit: Erika Mattingly

When it came time for a proposal, Ryan involved Jane’s parents and sister Colleen Handel. The selected venue was the Waveland tennis court lawn area in Lakeview, where Ryan had planned for a picnic, including, of course, Thor.

Ryan wanted the proposal to be photographed, so in order to disguise themselves, Kelli, Bill and Colleen donned wigs and costumes. Colleen needed a strategic viewing area to take photos and had to ingratiate herself with a friendly softball team that was also in the park. It was then a much larger audience, as they all waited for Ryan to propose.

As one might do at a picnic, Jane decided to fully relax and enjoy the moment. The softball team wasn’t happy. “It’s not happening, he’s not doing it! She’s lying down!” they said.

Ryan finally coaxed her to stand up and he got down on one knee and proposed. The family was able to capture the special moment on film – although Jane and Ryan at first didn’t recognize the three well-disguised “strangers” as they emerged to congratulate the couple.

Following the proposal, they all headed to a local restaurant, Cedar Palace, where many friends and family were waiting to celebrate with them. “It was awesome, kind of like a mini-mini wedding,” Jane said.

The actual ceremony and reception took place July 2 at Cafe Brauer, with Cassie Vasileff, an aunt of the bride, officiating. Colleen Handel was maid of honor and Nevin Vijay was best man.

The “wedding was so smooth, everything was awesome,” said Jane. The band Rush Street Rhythm provided the music for the 190 guests. “Wow, they are awesome. They hit it out of the park with every single song,” Jane said. “We danced for three straight hours, no joke!”

The couple’s friend, Tina Karakas from Bake it with Tina, made a small cake for the couple, which they saved for themselves. “We served old-school ice cream bars and popsicles as a great dessert for summer,” Jane said.

In the game of life, love and volleyball, Jane and Ryan are each other’s partners.

“Ryan and I have had the opportunity to travel together and explore new places prior to being married,” Jane said. “We can’t wait to continue doing that in the future as well. Everything is more fun when we are together.”

Editor’s note: The Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present “They Do,” a glimpse into the love stories and commitment celebrations of local readers and their relatives. 

Getting married? We want to hear all about your love story and share it with the RoundTable community. This is a free service of storytelling by the RoundTable. Please contact us if you have a wedding announcement you’d like to share, and include your name, the name of your partner and an email address. We’ll be in touch to spread the love.

Elizabeth Handler Krupkin covers the local wedding scene for the Evanston RoundTable. Elizabeth is a lifelong Evanston resident and ETHS grad. When she is not teaching preschool you can find her running...

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