When Elke moved to Switzerland from Brazil in 1994, romance had not crossed her mind. “My brother had been diagnosed with Aids,” she says. “He was living there and I went to care for him.” Sadly, he died in December that year, but Elke decided to stay and explore the country. “My brother loved Switzerland because it was more liberal than Brazil. He encouraged me to live there for a while.” She started an admin job with the European Tennis Association (now Tennis Europe) in the new year. “I think my boss felt sorry for me because I was feeling so sad all the time,” she says. “She wanted to set me up with one of her friends, but I wasn’t interested in dating.”
One night, she agreed to attend a small dinner party that her boss was hosting. When she arrived, Mike was already sitting on the sofa. He was originally from the UK, but had been living in Switzerland for several years, working in IT. “My friend had told me about this incredibly interesting Brazilian woman,” he says. “I brushed it off because I’d come out of a long relationship and wasn’t looking for anything.”
But the second Mike and Elke laid eyes on each other, they changed their minds. “As soon as I saw him, I knew he was going to be the guy for me,” she says. They started chatting and found one another fascinating. “She was full of contradictions, which intrigued me,” says Mike. “She was smoking despite saying how much she hated it. She also spoke about religion, whereas I am an atheist. I found her interesting and wanted to know more.” That evening, he walked her home and they spent more time talking in her apartment. “She showed me pictures of her brother and I listened to what she was going through,” says Mike. “We really connected.” They became a couple and their relationship moved quickly. In May, Mike took Elke to England to meet his family and proposed on the trip. “I’d sneakily gone into Harrods to buy a ring before I realised they cost £25,000,” he laughs. “In the end I proposed with no ring.”
Although they had originally planned to marry that July, Elke’s family were upset about the speedy union. “I think they thought I’d gone mad with grief, and they were very concerned about me,” she says. The couple delayed until September, but her family were keen to intervene. “They sent my sister over to talk me out of it, but she ended up loving Mike,” laughs Elke. One by one, all her family members accepted the marriage and Mike is now close to the whole family. The couple’s son, Caio, was born in 1996, followed by their daughter, Helena, in 2000.
In 2010, tragedy struck, when Caio died unexpectedly in an accident. “He’d shown autistic characteristics from a young age and had some struggles as a result, but he had started to blossom at school and he was becoming incredibly expressive. He entertained us endlessly,” says Elke. “I don’t believe in closure and it’s not something I’ll ever fully come to terms with,” says Mike. “But Elke and Helena gave me a reason to carry on.”
After they lost Caio, both Elke and Mike struggled to cope, and sought support in each other. The couple moved to Leamington Spa in England shortly after the accident to be closer to Mike’s family. They now live there with their dog, Chica, while Helena has returned to Switzerland to study. “It’s been incredibly hard but we’ve chosen to be happy,” says Elke. “We have reasons to be sad, but we try to fight it. We take every chance we can to spend time together and enjoy the little things.”
Mike loves his wife’s intelligence and sense of humour, as well as the immense strength she has shown in the past decade. “I’ve struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress, but she’s always inspired me to keep going. We both love each other’s cultures too, which has always bonded us.”
Elke says Mike is her rock: “We have different personalities and points of view but somehow we were made for each other. He’s always been there for me and our daughter. He’s the love of my life.”