The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The bride, the groom, the rattlesnake — and ‘the craziest adventure wedding yet’

Johnny and Laura Benson shortly after a rattlesnake bit the groom. (Maddie Mae)

Johnny and Laura Benson spent months preparing for their wedding in Fort Collins, Colo.

As many couples know, things don’t always go according to plan.

After the Bensons officially tied the knot at a Catholic church in town on Monday, and before their reception, the outdoorsy couple headed to Horsetooth Reservoir for a wedding photo shoot. Then, between shots capturing their smiles and kisses, a rattlesnake bit the groom on his ankle.

“I felt this bump against my leg and, and I wasn’t sure I got bit or not. But I felt it. I looked down, and there it was, rattling,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘You gotta be [kidding] me. Did this really just happen?’ ”

They were on a trail that Johnny runs often, usually with a rock in hand “for this very occasion. But not during wedding pictures.”

At first, Johnny brushed it off, but Laura urged him to take a look at his ankle. Sure enough, the bite marks were there. “Still, the only thing I could think of is we’re going to miss our big expensive party,” he said.

Adventure wedding photographer Maddie Mae was there, capturing the moments leading up to the bite and the aftermath. “At that moment we saw a park ranger driving by, so we waved him down furiously,” Mae recalled.

While the story eventually had a happy ending, “things got real, real fast,” Johnny said.

Rattlesnake bites can be quite serious. They are venomous, and symptoms can include paralysis, bleeding and breathing difficulty. People bitten by rattlesnakes should seek medical attention quickly, usually at a hospital. And as anti-venom is expensive and expires, many ambulances don’t carry it.

Paramedics arrived and discussed calling a helicopter that carries anti-venom. Johnny wasn’t showing serious symptoms, so they took him to the emergency room, where medical workers confirmed the bite had been dry. No venom had been injected into Johnny’s ankle.

Throughout it all, Laura was by Johnny’s side, making calls, alerting guests waiting for the couple at the reception and, eventually, leaving the hospital with her new husband.

“She didn’t freak out at all. She was very cool and collected and she kept her wits about her,” Johnny said. “I knew she was like that — she’s good in a crisis. She’s a teacher, and a raft guide.”

They were only an hour late to the reception. “It was extremely emotional,” Johnny said. “When we came up, everyone was jumping up and down, and cheering and crying. My new father-in-law came up and grabbed me. It was wonderful.”

At one point, a guest went out to buy fake, rubber snakes, Mae said. People danced with them, and the garter-belt toss, originally not part of the reception plans, featured a fake snake. “Everyone was joking, calling him ‘Johnny Rattlesnake’ and saying it’s a typical Johnny Benson wedding.”

Apparently, “these sort of things happen a lot” to Johnny, he said.

As a specialist in adventure wedding photography, Mae has hiked a mile into the Costa Rican jungle, waded through ice water that reached her chest and climbed to the top of a mountain — all in the pursuit of snapping photos of smiling couples.

But she said Monday’s wedding shoot, which took place just 50 feet from a parking lot, “has been the craziest adventure wedding yet.”

“We’ll tell our kids someday, can you believe that actually happened? What are the chances?” Johnny said. “Maybe it’s good luck to get bit by a snake between your wedding and reception.”

Remember, wildlife is everywhere — even on your wedding day.


How to kill thousands of rattlesnakes in just four days

An evolutionary arms race with snakes turned newts super toxic

Even though snakebites kill 200,000 every year, research loses funding