Everybody was in on the big secret, except Sophie Delezio. Her parents, brother, overseas friends – even her nail artist – knew boyfriend Joseph Salerno was about to pop the question in the most romantic way, on Valentine’s Day.
“Oh my God, I had no idea,” laughs Sophie in April 2023, her big blue eyes out-sparkling even the diamond and platinum ring shining on her finger. “Funnily enough, I got a heart painted on one of my nails the week before and joked that it might give Joseph the hint! That’s how little I suspected what he had planned.”
Good mates for years before they became romantically linked, theirs is a love story against the odds. Terribly injured in two separate car crashes as a cherubic toddler, little Sophie’s courage and tenacity rapidly made her Australia’s sweetheart. And, eventually, Joseph’s too.
“She has always been the strongest person I’ve ever known. I could tell from our first handshake, a very strong grip,” smiles Joseph, recalling that fateful face-to-face when they were both Year 9 students. “Strong, confident and generous, those three words best describe Sophie. That’s what I see when I’m with her.”
The feeling is entirely mutual. “Honestly, Joseph is the most open and accepting person I’ve ever met,” Sophie says proudly.
“He just understands and jumps in when I need help. I never have to ask or explain. It’s an absolute honour to be marrying him.”
At the time of interviewing, Sophie and Joseph shared a stylish unit close to Sydney’s Luna Park. Six months later, they moved on to their next chapter.
“Joseph and I recently bought our first home together!!” Sophie revealed on Instagram, “We’re so so excited to decorate our place, buy new furniture and personalise the space to suit us!”
The couple’s adoration is palpable. They cook together, entertain, watch old movies, and gently tease each other.
“Prankster” Joseph is clearly delighted to have kept his carefully-staged proposal – a trail of rose petals, candles, a souvenir scrapbook and that fabulous ring – such a closely-guarded secret.
“He’s a master manipulator,” beams his bride-to-be. “I guess everyone’s dream is to fall in love with their best friend, although it’s something you usually see only in the movies. We’ve been best friends since we were 14, so we’ve never had that awkward introductory phase of dating.”
Joseph remembers being on the same swim team at age six. “I was always pretty fascinated with her,” he admits. Sophie recalls that his “golden tan” bowled her over when they were properly introduced at her new high school on Sydney’s northern beaches.
“He’d been away visiting family in Italy, but I’d heard all about him and I think you could say he lived up to my expectations, if not more,” grins the 22-year-old. “We were very close from then on and even went to our Year 10 formal together. It’s great because we already know so much about each other. Everything feels very natural.”
It’s almost 20 years since Sophie received burns to 85 per cent of her body after being trapped under a blazing car that smashed into her childcare centre during nap time. She lost both legs below the knee, plus her right hand and ear, and was hospitalised for almost a year.
It was an appalling tragedy. Yet even worse was in store for the close-knit Delezio family when, in 2006, Sophie was involved in a second horrific crash as her nanny pushed her wheelchair across the road.
Struck by a car on the pedestrian crossing, the little girl was hurled 18 metres, suffering a heart attack and traumatic brain injury. The impact also broke her jaw and collarbone, fractured all the ribs on her right side and punctured a lung.
So grim were the prospects, parents Ron and Carolyn Delezio were twice given the option of turning off Sophie’s life support at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. For them, it wasn’t an option, but they resolved, should their precious daughter recover, never to “wrap her in cotton wool”.
Growing up, Sophie proved indomitable, gregarious and self-assured. She not only survived, but thrived. Within two months of the second accident, she was out of bed and back at school. Sophie swam, enjoyed drama lessons, worked out at the gym five days a week, gained her driving licence – and the welcome independence it granted – as a teenager, rowed in regattas and even went skydiving. All that despite regular surgeries to “prune” the growing bones in her amputated legs and to adjust the skin grafts covering her body.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you how many operations I’ve had. Well over 100, I don’t know,” says Sophie, who experiences ongoing wounds caused by the friction of her prosthetic limbs. “Last year was the first for 20 years, since my first accident, with no surgeries. Pretty amazing.”
Sadly, Sophie had to have another operation in 2023 though. She took to Instagram in October to reveal the news.
“Sorry for my radio silence lately… Life threw me a major curveball and I had to undergo surgery in order for me to walk down the aisle next year,” Sophie wrote in her signature positive vernacular before adding:
“Huge shoutout to the most amazing fiancé. I couldn’t have gone through this without you.”
“Sophie has had to be determined and strong her whole life,” doting dad Ron, a former electrician and Australian Father of the Year, tells The Weekly. “After everything she has gone through, her just being alive is a testament to how determined she really is.” When Sophie set her heart on studying at university in London, nothing else would do. She decided to go it alone for the first time.
Leaving home and travelling halfway around the world, she dealt with her complicated medical needs by herself, without a support team. “I always said nothing was going to get in the way of my going to London,” she chuckles. “If anything was ever going to happen between Joseph and me, it had to be after I’d experienced that.”
It was a calculated risk on many levels, but one Sophie confronted in trademark gutsy style. “I even loved the weather. Cold and rain suited me fine!” She was in her element, reading for a degree in social anthropology and development at London University’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
Sadly, the COVID pandemic cut short her time in the UK after just one year, and she was forced to return to Sydney in 2020. But if every cloud has a silver lining, this one offered the chance to reconnect with Joseph, now working as a chef on Sydney’s lower north shore.
“When she got back, I realised how much I had missed her,” the 23-year-old says simply. “We didn’t have too much contact while she was gone. But when I saw her face again, she took my breath away.”
“Sweet talker!” Sophie scoffs, captivated. “You know, life always has its ups and downs, and we weren’t always as close. I had the most wonderful year in London, but we started dating when I came back. Before that, when we were younger, it was always platonic.
“We were on our own journeys and needed to grow separately before we could come together. But I will be forever grateful for those years we had apart. We both had our independence and experienced different relationships, which was nice, but still found each other again.”
Confiding his feelings over dinner a few weeks later, Joseph was a little taken aback when Sophie just gave a hearty laugh. “I awkward-laugh a lot when I don’t know what to say or do,” she confesses. “Oh my gosh, I was surprised, especially when we’d been friends for so long. I had no clue.
“I was happy we were hanging out a lot, but at that stage, my eyes were still set on going back to study in London. I didn’t expect what Joseph told me; a relationship wasn’t on my mind. But I knew, in that moment, we would be great together.”
And so it proved. Their nearest and dearest were universally delighted by the news – all the more so when the intrepid couple travelled to visit overseas family and friends on an epic 10-month adventure in 2022.
“That really tests your relationship limits,” jokes Sophie, who is embarking on a career in journalism. “Just the two of us for 10 months, 26 different countries. If you can withstand that, you can withstand anything! My phone was stolen in London, a few credit cards got lost. In Venice, Joseph was carrying two suitcases AND a wheelchair … “
“My joints haven’t been the same since – my arms still click,” he interjects.
“But that was when he knew he wanted to propose,” she says triumphantly. “It was the best experience ever – phenomenal. We saw the northern lights five times. And Joseph was amazing through all of it.”
Returning to Sydney in late 2022, Joseph quietly asked Sophie’s parents and big brother, Mitchell, for her hand in marriage. Then he set about commissioning a ring from Diamonds By You. “Because Sophie is such a big Disney fan, it had to be a real princess style. In the end I chose a trinity ring with three stones representing the past, present and future.”
Joseph originally intended to propose later this year but with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, he finally thought, “What am I waiting for? Just do it!”
Plan A was to pop the question at Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in nearby Lavender Bay, but rain made that impossible. Plan B was to transform their apartment balcony into a romantic haven, helped by both sets of parents and Joseph’s interior designer aunt. Bent on subterfuge, he took his intended for a drink down the road while their families got to work.
“When we came back, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed,” Sophie marvels. “The flat was all decked out with tea-light candles and rose petals. But I still didn’t realise what was going on. I thought he was just being romantic for Valentine’s Day. With both our families involved, I can’t believe nobody let it slip.”
On tenterhooks, Joseph handed her a scrapbook he had made, featuring highlights of their shared past and travels. To Sophie’s bewilderment, the last page featured a photograph of the gorgeous engagement ring.
“She turned to me and I was down on one knee, bawling,” says Joseph. “Our go-to song is Be My Baby, so I just asked if Sophie would be my baby. And luckily, she ticked the box on the back of the scrapbook that said ‘Yes’.”
There were many tears as they shared the news with their close-knit families, who were waiting downstairs. Afterwards, everyone went for dinner at the ritzy French restaurant where the couple had enjoyed their very first date.
“It has worked out well, I’d say,” Sophie says, glowing, already looking forward to her Hunter Valley wedding in October next year. “Of course there are going to be comments about getting married so young. But we’ve been through so many journeys together, experienced so many hardships, and we’re thankful for that. We know we can withstand a lot of challenges, which is what marriage is about more than anything. Now we just want to embrace the happy times life offers. When you know, you know!
“The biggest thing for me is that we have so much love and support around us. We want our wedding to be a celebration of our gratitude. There are so many people who have helped us get where we are today, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Inevitably, there will be hurdles to overcome. “I somehow create injuries, I’m very clumsy,” Sophie hoots. “I do things I shouldn’t, push myself to the limits, wear my prosthetics too much …
“I’m stubborn and sometimes choose not to listen to my body, although Joseph is a lot stricter with me than I am. My parents are really grateful, because I never took any notice of them! This time I’ve made up my mind though. No surgeries in the next year before the wedding. That’s an absolute no.”
Would she change anything about her extraordinary past? Sophie doesn’t hesitate. “I don’t remember the accidents, and I’m grateful for that. But I’m never going to wish they didn’t happen, because they brought me to where I am today.” Glancing over at Joseph, she quietly adds, “I have no complaints. This is the life I know and love.”