The pair met at an event in Florida organized by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, where they both gave presentations.
“I actually didn’t know anything about her,” White — arguably the world’s greatest snowboarder —tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
So the pair decided to grab a bite to eat after the event at a nearby restaurant.
“The place was packed,” recounts White, 35, who is currently hoping to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics — his fifth and final — in Beijing. “And she was like, ‘Let me go see if I can get a table.’ “
The three-time Olympic gold medal winner, who long ago grew accustomed to signing autographs and posing for photos with strangers, watched as the 33-year-old star of TV’s The Vampire Diaries spoke to the hostess.
Nina Dobrev/INSTAGRAM Shaun White and Nina Dobrev
He smiled knowingly when the woman began to blush, and remembers thinking to himself that Dobrev probably told her, “There’s an old gold medalist over there who wants a table.”
When several members of the restaurant staff appeared, the legendary athlete walked over to the group, confident he knew exactly what they wanted.
For more about Shaun White’s journey toward his last Olympic Games, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Shaun White
“Can we get a photo … with her?” White remembers one of the waiters asking. “And I was like, ‘What’s happening? What’s going on?’ It was actually really funny.”
Before long, the two began dating, trying to juggle time together in the midst of their busy careers. “We were flying all over,” says White. “She’s an actress so she’s shooting movies, doing press and all these things, and I’m getting ready for competition, doing interviews and appearances.”
Theo Wargo/Getty Shaun White
But when the pandemic hit and the lockdown went into effect, the pair decided to put the time to good use by moving in together and were soon busying themselves doing home repairs and painting projects.
“We went to the hardware store bought a bunch of paint, and brushes and definitely got in over our heads, but it was really fun,” he says, insisting that he knew the actress was special when their two dogs — Steve, a French bulldog, and Maverick, her border collie Australian shepherd mix — became pals. “Steve has a bit of an attitude, but they get along amazingly. So it was really meant to be.”
The relationship, adds White, has continued to grow.
“Nina’s just been so supportive and so amazing through this whole process for me,” he says. “Through the pandemic, she was a lifesaver — she really made that time in my life special.”
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning Feb 3, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NB