“The whole energy came from family and friends,” she says of the ceremony in Providence, R.I. “People were crying. There were so many tears shed, especially from me!”
Her new husband, White House staffer and Coast Guard Lieutenant Clay Pell, was also swept up in the moment. “As she was walking into the church, I could feel her,” he tells PEOPLE.
“I could feel this energy, this sense of grace and movement and comfort to me the whole time. This contentedness, whether we were holding hands, or hugging, or kissing – she has such warmth for me and I just felt this fire the whole day, and I still do.”
Although not everything at the First Unitarian Church went as planned, the couple improvised. “The Christ candle didn’t light because the wick had gone down,” Kwan says. “We had both of our candles and everyone was staring at us, and we’re like, ‘It’s not lighting!’ So Clay took one of the matches and stuck it on there, we lit the match, and everyone started clapping. It turned out perfect.”
After the couple walked through an arch of sabers formed by Pell’s friends in the Coast Guard, they led guests in lighting sparklers before entering the Hope Club for dinner and dancing.
Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano, 49, spoke at the reception. “It was hard because I couldn’t look at her too much because I get kind of emotional,” Boitano tells PEOPLE. “It’s like a little sister growing up. My brotherly instincts are on the high end for her! I think she’s incredibly loyal and she is truly filled with so much grace on and off the ice.”
Kwan, 32, and Pell, 31, who got engaged in September, chose “We’ve Only Just Begun” for their first dance. Kwan’s sister Karen, 34, “tried to choreograph it,” Pell says, “but we went off-script a little bit.”
“We were having the time of our lives,” Kwan says. “We were supposed to twirl but where the button goes to bustle my dress, it ripped off. Clay loves to dance.”
Turning to Pell, Kwan adds, “You danced like no one was watching, or people were watching but you didn’t care because you were having the time of your life. I love that!”
For more on Kwan’s wedding, including photos and all the details – from the dress to the decor – pick up a copy of next week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday