In the end, love has conquered all for "frostbitten lover" couple

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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Charles Gonsoulin, the man who made international headlines trying to sneak into Canada in the dead of winter to meet his Internet girlfriend, may be proof that love can conquer all.
Five years after Gonsoulin almost died of hypothermia in a desperate bid to meet his cyber sweetheart, Jennifer Couture, the couple are still together and, despite ongoing legal, financial and geographic obstacles, are planning to get married.
"Jennifer, to me, is my angel," Gonsoulin, 46, said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "We're planning a bright future together."
Couture said in an email the couple talks about getting married all the time, despite the fact they still live in different countries. She says Gonsoulin "is more than I could ever hope for and even more than I ever could have imagined."
Their story started eight years ago, when they met online and began emailing and chatting. They wanted to meet face-to-face, but Couture was in Lachute, Que., with teenage kids and Gonsoulin was in Los Angeles, working as a self-employed mechanic.
To make matters more difficult, Gonsoulin could not legally enter Canada because of a robbery conviction two decades earlier. Couture faced obstacles in travelling because her children were young at the time and her finances were limited.
So in February 2005, Gonsoulin rode by bus to Pembina, N.D., just south of the Manitoba border, and tried to walk undetected into Canada. Once across the border, he planned to board a Greyhound bus for Quebec.
"I came to two very important questions in my life at that time and that was, how far am I willing to go and what price am I willing to pay for what I believe in," Gonsoulin recalls. "I wanted to be with her that bad."
He thought he was prepared for the February cold, with a parka, mitts, thermal socks and a tuque. But he got lost during his trek and ended up spending more than three days and nights - 100 consecutive hours - struggling to keep warm in -20 C weather
"I had never experienced anything quite that cold, or snow that deep, before," Gonsoulin recalls.
He became so disoriented from bone-chilling hypothermia that he started taking off some of his clothes - a phenomenon known as paradoxical undressing - and would likely have died had it not been for an RCMP officer who spotted him on the golf course in the border town of Emerson, Man.
Gonsoulin paid a steep price for his actions. Doctors had to amputate all his fingers, and some of his toes, because of frostbite. He was convicted of entering the country illegally and possessing a prohibited weapon - pepper spray to fend off animals, he says. He was deported soon afterward, still having never met Couture face-to-face.
The story made headlines around the world and led to many snarky comments on news websites about Gonsoulin's failed crossing - comments which Couture says hurt deeply.
Undeterred, the couple pursued their relationship, determined to overcome the obstacles.
In December of that year, Couture flew south and the two met at the airport in Little Rock, Ark., not far from Gonsoulin's home town. After years of phone calls and emails, they were finally able to embrace.
"There was no room for awkwardness. We fell into a natural step physically what we had been living in every other sense of the word the ... three years prior," Couture recalls. "Everything felt, and was, right and real."
"Our hearts had already grown together before we had even met," Gonsoulin adds. "The meeting was just the icing on the cake, and that was what made us decide that there was something here that we were going to continue."
The couple now meet regularly. Sometimes Couture flies to Arkansas. Sometimes they meet in New York state, about as close to the Canadian border as Gonsoulin is allowed. Couture has an easier time travelling now that her kids are grown. Gonsoulin has completed his recovery. He no longer works as a mechanic - the loss of his fingers makes intricate work difficult. He does odd jobs, he says, and still experiences pain in his hands.
"In some cases, I've been able to find tools and aids that compensate for the loss of fingers," he says.
"I have a future I have to get to with this woman ... so that made (recovery) all the more fast. I would say I cut what would be a normal recovery time in half."
For now, the couple talk on the phone or chat on the Internet when they can't be together. They'll even watch movies online while talking on the phone.
Gonsoulin is looking into getting a pardon so he can cross the border legally, and there has been discussion of Couture moving to the United States once her children leave home.
The details have not been worked out, but the couple are confident that one day they will be together permanently.
"Our plans are as boundless and unlimited as our imaginations are," Couture says. "Our story truly is in every sense, to be continued."

Organizations: Canadian Press, RCMP

Geographic location: Canada, Lachute, Los Angeles Pembina, N.D. Manitoba Quebec Emerson Little Rock Arkansas New York United States

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