When Tim Tebow popped the question to former Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, the couple was standing next to a handmade wooden bench that was engraved with the date that they met, the date of their engagement, and the word “forever.”
It was a romantic gesture for Tebow, who met Nel-Peters last April. “We started messaging, and then I heard her voice for the first time,” he tells PEOPLE. “And then I finally met her. I knew she was special right away.”
As Tebow began spending more time with Nel-Peters, he says he knew that there was something different about her. “She’s awesome,” he says. “I could tell that right away. She’s got such a great heart, she’s kind, she’s beautiful. I just knew.”
Tebow, 31, sealed the deal with a 7.25-carat solitaire ring and secretly flew Nel-Peters’ family and closest friends from South Africa to witness the intimate engagement. He proposed to Nel-Peters, 23, at sunset on Wednesday at his family’s farm outside of Jacksonville, Florida.
“I wanted everyone to be here,” he says. “And it worked out. There was just one of her friends that couldn’t make it, but everyone else could.”
“She is a really special girl and I am very lucky and blessed for her coming into my life,” he said. “I am usually very private with these things, but I am very thankful.”
A few months later, he told PEOPLE that things were moving quickly with Nel-Peters. “My family loves her so much,” he said. “She gets along great with them, and that’s important to me.”
For Tebow, the new relationship was a long time coming.
Opening up to PEOPLE in 2017, Tebow revealed he was searching for a partner who prioritized the Christian faith.
“They have to really love God,” he explained of his future significant other. “My faith is important to me — it’s the most important thing — and I need to be with someone who also shares that faith.”
And Nel-Peters seems to check that box perfectly, recently sharing a post on Instagram that reflected upon her year and touched on her religious beliefs.
“First and foremost all the glory goes to my Heavenly Father and savior, Jesus Christ,” she wrote. “In Jeremiah 29:11 He makes this promise: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I had a dream of becoming an influential young woman in my country, but His dream for me was so much bigger. I am forever grateful for al [sic] the experiences He has blessed me with in my life.”
Now that Nel-Peters and Tebow are engaged to be married, the pair is starting to plan the wedding — as well as figure out the rest of their future.
“I can’t believe I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her,” Tebow told PEOPLE just moments after the engagement. “This is just the beginning.”