As a couple who share a formidable internet following, it may be somewhat shocking to learn that Charisma Jamison and Cole Sydnor met the old-fashion way.
In November 2017, Ms. Jamison, at the time an inpatient rehab technician at Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centers in Richmond, Va., noticed Mr. Sydnor working out on the outpatient side of the facility. Mr. Sydnor is a C5/C6 quadriplegic — he’s completely lost function of his hands, trunk and legs, with limited function in his arms, wrists and shoulders. He was injured in 2011, when he struck a rock with his head after diving into the James River in Virginia.
When Ms. Jamison saw Mr. Sydnor across the room, she didn’t see someone with limitations — she saw a friendly smile and a pair of bright, blue eyes.
“It was very easy to look past physical limitations being in my career,” Ms. Jamison, 26, said. “And the fact that Cole was super attractive didn’t hurt.”
Despite not working on the outpatient side of Sheltering Arms, Ms. Jamison found herself offering a helping hand to Mr. Sydnor as he finished working out on an electrical stimulation bike, which helps shock his muscles into operating the bike.
“I had electrical pads on my legs, buttocks, and I was exhausted and sweaty,” Mr. Sydnor, 25, recalled. “It was not the first impression I was looking for.”
They had a friendly, flirty conversation and would meet again a few days later at the Sheltering Arms annual fund-raising gala. Mr. Sydnor’s mother, Kelly Sydnor, met Ms. Jamison at the gala and invited her to sit at their family’s table. She declined, but a good first impression had been made.
“I just thought she was radiant and lovely,” Kelly Sydnor said of their encounter. “When Cole told me about Charisma, I was really glad to hear they were going on a date. I could tell she was so authentic.”
Ms. Jamison and Mr. Sydnor exchanged pleasantries once again at the gala, and later that night, she followed him on Instagram. Mr. Sydnor returned the favor, and then he “slid into my DMs,” messaging each other on the app, Ms. Jamison said.
They became a couple several weeks later, on Dec. 1, 2017.
The questions started to arrive immediately from friends, family, and the occasional judgment from passers-by. What was it like dating a quadriplegic? What is it like being an interabled couple? What is an interabled couple?
“I knew it would be tough for them,” Mrs. Sydnor said. “I told Charisma early on, ‘You know you’re choosing a difficult road, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel it.’” Ms. Jamison is very close with her parents, Katrina and Derrick Jamison. When she came to them about Mr. Sydnor, they were cautious at first, but very supportive.
“Charisma has always talked to us and values our opinion,” her mother said. “She came home one day and asked how Derrick and I about an abled person dating someone that has a disability. It depends on the person in that relationship, because that’s going to be a lot of responsibility.”
Mr. Jamison said he “told her that I wouldn’t hold a disability against someone, but wasn’t sure if I would date them.”
“Then I met him,” he said. “If our kids have an interest in someone, it’s because they picked a good person. I like Cole a lot. He and I have our own relationship, we’re able to talk about anything. His parents are very down to earth. It’s been a real blessing to see how all of it just flows together.”
Ms. Jamison and Mr. Sydnor decided to record a couple of videos and post them on YouTube answering some common questions they were constantly getting about interabled couples.
Mr. Sydnor had already been familiar with the power of YouTube — when he broke his neck as a 15-year-old high school student in 2011, his mother went through a similar process of getting the same questions from hundreds of friends and family. So she started creating videos of Mr. Sydnor’s recovery process and sharing them online.
“I knew a lot of people in town and it’s pretty uncommon for someone to break their neck, so news spreads pretty quickly,” Mr. Sydnor said.
Once Ms. Jamison and Mr. Sydnor started dating and began getting questions, it was Ms. Jamison who suggested making some videos.
“So we started filming what we do, our challenges, our daily lives,” Mr. Sydnor said. “Showing what we deal with on a daily basis when traveling.”
The couple enjoyed the process of creating videos, and realized it was cementing a bond that took hold early in their relationship. They recall the night when both realized they loved each other — it was New Year’s Day 2018, the first time Ms. Jamison had spent the night at Mr. Sydnor’s home.
“It was after our third date and we got to know each other a bit more,” she said. “It felt like we had known each other for a lifetime.”
On their first date over dinner, they had a very frank conversation about expectations.
“At that point in our lives, we both weren’t interested in dating around,” Mr. Sydnor said. “We were searching for who we wanted to end up with. We agreed that if we didn’t feel that way with each other, we’d cut it off.”
“The fact that every date we had was fantastic, every moment was electric, made it so easy,” Ms. Jamison said. “We both realized this was going to be it.”
As they slept that first night together, Ms. Jamison unknowingly knocked out the catheter Mr. Sydnor wears while he sleeps. It was a situation Mr. Sydnor’s family would typically help rectify. Ms. Jamison refused to call for help. “She handled it with such grace and ease,” Mr. Sydnor said. “For me it was always the type of situation where I felt it would be make or break. The fact that it didn’t even faze her, it made me feel like I had found the one.”
“It was significant — a moment that could have been embarrassing, but it made me realize that I loved this man,” Ms. Jamison said. “We were only a month in and I wanted to do this for him.”
As their love grew, so did Cole and Charisma’s YouTube following. (Their channel currently has 523,000 subscribers.)
Several inflection points spurred the growth of their channel, the first being a video posted on July 22, 2018, showing Mr. Sydnor walking for the first time since his accident with the help of an exoskeleton. The video had more than 3.2 million page views.
At the time, Ms. Jamison was attending graduate school for occupational therapy. She is from the Bronx and moved to Henrico, Va., when she was 3. She graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s in exercise science from Virginia Commonwealth University. Mr. Sydnor, whose family is from Mechanicsville, Va., graduated from the University of Richmond in 2017.
After that video went “semi-viral,” the couple began to seriously consider their professional futures. They had become qualified for YouTube’s partner program, meaning since they had hit a certain threshold of views/subscribers, they could begin generating advertising revenue from their content.
“We had started to receive a lot of positive comments,” Mr. Sydnor said. “It’s been exciting to share a new manifestation of love with the world. As an interabled and interracial couple, we’re proof that love can be found anywhere.”
Ms. Jamison made the decision to leave graduate school so the couple could put all their efforts into producing content for the YouTube channel, which is named “Roll With Cole & Charisma.” They cover topics from their daily lives, educational content that may help others navigate the inaccessible and accessible aspects of the world, and answer questions from viewers, friends, and family. They also have a freelance production company, where they produce content for local businesses.
They began getting into advocacy for the disabled community. The couple did a TEDx Talk about their story. Mr. Sydnor gave a speech at Google with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation regarding the importance of universal design in product creation.
“They have infectious personalities,” said Breanna Spain, one of Ms. Jamison’s best friends and her maid of honor. “People fell in love with how authentic they were. They’re all about positivity. They’ve given a lot of hope to the disabled community.”
Ms. Jamison never thought the channel would become so popular. “Some days I wish no one knew about me,” she said. “We’ve had to sacrifice a lot of privacy sharing our lives with others, but in turn it makes us both happy because we’re able to impact viewers in such a positive way, just by sharing our lives.”
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“I just want to share with people that love comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes, and no matter the shape it takes, it’s beautiful,” Mr. Sydnor added.
Mr. Sydnor proposed on July 25, 2019 at the Wine Loft in Richmond, after singing Ms. Jamison, “Your Smile,” an original song he had commissioned by Kari Smith, a local musician. The video of the proposal is, of course, on their YouTube channel.
The couple moved up their wedding date to Nov. 7. Mr. Sydnor and Ms. Jamison, who is taking her husband’s name, were married in front of a small group of close friends and family on the outdoor patio of the historic Virginia House in Richmond. A number of precautions were taken: sanitation stations were set up, guests wore masks during the ceremony and reception, seats and tables were spaced apart, and guests had their temperatures taken before they entered. About 150 guests watched the wedding ceremony via livestream.
“I was disappointed when we had to reduce the size of our wedding, but our wedding planner blew it out of the water,” Mr. Sydnor said. “It couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Ms. Jamison wore a custom-made Ava Laurenne Bride dress called “The Charisma Dress.” Mr. Sydnor wore a tailored suit customize so it fit him while sitting in his wheelchair. A family friend built a custom ramp for Mr. Sydnor to easily approach the makeshift altar, which was built for them on the Virginia House patio.
The couple’s vows reflected the intimacy of the setting.
“For the longest time I didn’t think you were out there,” Mr. Sydnor said. “Someone so selfless and caring, so beautiful inside and out. From our first date, I could see that in you and every day since, I’ve felt my love for you grow deeper. I promise to never let that love stop growing.”
“You have one of the sweetest souls and a smile that makes any day the best day,” Ms. Jamison said. “You have shown me the true meaning of patient, commitment, and love, and I fall more in love with you every day. You are my best friend, my partner in crime, the love of my life. Through whatever life throws our direction, like the year 2020, I will always be at your side. I love you.”
On This Day
When Nov. 7, 2020
Where The Virginia House, Richmond, Va.
A Bittersweet Affair Mr. Sydnor had been looking forward to his grandfather, the Rev. Clement Adkisson Sydnor III, marrying him one day. It would not come to pass. His grandfather’s health began to fail and he died several weeks before the wedding. The groom’s brother, Clement Adkission Sydnor V, who is known as Quint, was his best man.
Sweet and Spicy As temperatures dipped to the low 60s throughout the night of their wedding, the couple wanted to offer a special drink to keep guests warm. It was named in honor of the bride’s family — the “hot Jamison cider.” It contained Jameson Irish whiskey, cinnamon, an apricot gummy and ginger.
Delayed Honeymoon Mr. Sydnor and Ms. Jamison opted for a mini-moon getaway following their wedding. Their true honeymoon will be delayed until international travel becomes feasible once again. They plan to travel to New Zealand, which is considered to be an extremely accessible country.