09/11/2012 AT 8:00 PM ET
After nine U.S. national figure skating championships, five world championships and two Olympic medals, Michelle Kwan has enough hardware to populate many a trophy case.
On Sept. 3, though, she got the ultimate in bling – a diamond ring.
Kwan, 32, tells PEOPLE that she is engaged to Clay Pell, 30, director for strategic planning on the National Security staff at the White House. The two first met in April 2011.
“It was a simple decision and it made sense, that’s what’s so exciting to me,” Kwan says of the proposal. “We are working together as a team, like in [pair skating].”
Adds Pell: “It was amazing from the very beginning how in sync our way of thinking is, our basic values and our sense of priorities. We just both got each other.”
Pell proposed on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island.
“It was hot and we were going to go into the water to cool ourselves off a little bit,” Kwan says. “I wasn’t anticipating going swimming. I said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable because I don’t have my bathing suit on.’ He’s like, ‘No, come on in,’ so I said, ‘Okay.’ ”
“I was nervous about wanting to do it right, but I wasn’t nervous about what the answer would be,” Pell explains. “We had been talking for a while about how we would like to have a family and the idea of getting married and what we wanted to do with our lives – and public service. So I think we both knew where we were relationship-wise and where we were going.”
Public service runs in both families. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Kwan to serve on the Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports in June; she continues to work in the State Department as a U.S. public diplomacy envoy.
Pell, a JAG and Lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard, is the grandson of the late Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell, who established Pell Grants for college 40 years ago.