When American Art Reynolds, in Washington, first played poker online against Sharon Rushton in Abermain, he was not too happy.
That was two years ago.
Sharon, it seemed, was one tough poker player.
What Mr Reynolds didn’t know then was that Ms Rushton had once been ranked the 13th best poker player in Australasia.
A short time after that they spoke online. He liked her sense of humour and one poker game led to another.
And this Friday marked a very special occasion for them both – it’s two years exactly since they became engaged.
A law enforcement officer with the United States Air Force for two years, Mr Reynolds, 55, later ran an architectural design business and served as a search and rescue officer with the Washington Fire Service.
A poker enthusiast, he had played online games with people throughout the world. But it was after the death of his sister and his father that he made contact with Ms Rushton.
Several games led to the couple becoming Facebook friends.
“My sister and my father had died and I was not doing so hot,” Mr Reynolds said.
“I wrote some things online and I asked if Sharon was with anybody.
“When she said she wasn’t, I was very pleased.
“This resulted in a mammoth conversation over Skype – me in Washington and Sharon in Abermain, Australia.
“We talked for 72 hours non stop and we hit it off real well.
“I know I fell in love with Sharon that first day we talked together.”
Sharon, 47, is especially proud of her man, especially after the recent bushfire that threatened a property of Neath greyhound breeders and racers, Margaret and Bill Bright.
The moment he saw the black clouds over their property, the former fire officer raced for their home – and in doing so he became something of a legend.
For nearly four hours Mr Reynolds stood perched on their roof with a hose in each hand, spraying the approaching flames.
“ Don’t worry ma’am – this fire won’t get your house while I am here,” Mr Reynolds told the couple.
Ms Bright believes his actions bought precious time – enough for up to 30 neighbours to burst out of the bush in cars and trucks with trailers, grabbing every greyhound they could find and driving them to safety.
The joint effort of Mr Reynolds and neighbours saw a total of 58 greyhounds rescued.
“Art Reynolds stood on top of our roof like the wild west gunfighter Wyatt Earp with a hose in each hand,” Mrs Bright said. “He was inspiring.”
Mr Reynolds explained simply: “It was no big deal.
“This is my neighbourhood and these are my neighbours.”
Then he revealed how difficult his task had really been.
“My health has suffered over time, since I fell off a building fighting a fire 29 years ago,” he said.
“I have had a total of 13 operations and after recovering from a stroke, I walk with a cane.
“I don’t know how I managed to shimmy up onto that roof – I think I surprised myself,” he said.
Mr Reynolds has a son and two grandchildren from a previous relationship and they live in Washington.
Ms Rushton has three children, two of them living at home with her.
“I had separated from my partner five years ago and I played my first game of poker at Kurri Kurri Golf Club about 10 years ago,” she said.
“I loved the game from the very start and began playing games online in many different countries.
“I played it a lot and I was once ranked the 13th best poker player in Australasia.
“This brought the added benefit of getting to know many interesting people – and then I met Art online.”
Mr Reynolds said: “I am just a hopeless romantic and I just knew everything about Sharon was right for me.
“About a month after we met online, I told Sharon I loved her and she said she loved me too.”
She has visited him in Washington and he has been to her home in Abermain, where he spoke to The Mercury.
“I asked Sharon to marry me a month after we met online,” he said.
“We still play poker regularly.
“Sharon is really good – I tend to take too many risks.
“But we both treasure the game that brought us together.”
The couple share many other interests too: they both enjoy gardening and quiet times.
“We feed the birds together every morning,” he said.
“It’s one of the delights of our day.”
Mr Reynolds, who served with the US Air Force in Korea during the disturbances there in 1977 and 1978, is also an enthusiastic member of Growing Veterans, an organisation run by veterans helping disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen to cope with life in a peacetime
society after they have left the military.
“When Sharon and I get married, I want it to happen in Australia on the longest day of the year,” Mr Reynolds said.
“Then on the same day, we will fly to America and get married again – both ceremonies taking place on the same day in two different countries.
“They will be weddings to remember forever.”