Hawaii loses a legend in Charlie Wedemeyer


POSTED: Friday, June 04, 2010

”;Pain and suffering is inevitable. However, misery is optional and we get to make that choice.”; Charlie Wedemeyer, 2005

It will be one of those remember-where-I-was moments.

For the record, that was sitting on my couch at home watching the Women's College World Series. Traci Yoshikawa's two-run homer had just keyed the biggest win in Hawaii softball history.

That, however, is just a small part of why I'll always remember yesterday morning.

The phone rang. I figured my friend Nate Jones wanted to talk about the game. But that would have to wait. He had news. “;Did you hear about Charlie Wedemeyer?”;

I hadn't, but I knew the next words would not be ones I wanted to hear.

And indeed they were not. The man who had out-run death for 30 years — while in a wheelchair and unable to physically speak, who had lived a life of doing for others — had finally reached the end zone.

Charlie lived more life and brought out more good in others for three decades with Lou Gehrig's disease than most people do their entire lives.

Before that, he symbolized an era in island sports we'll never see again. He was the All-Hawaiian kid, star in the big three: football, basketball and baseball. Handsome and charming, too.

After finishing at Punahou (where he met the love of his life, Lucy) it was off to Michigan State for football. Then they settled in Los Gatos, Calif., and raised a family. Charlie coached the high school football team, and continued to do so after the illness took so much away from him that he couldn't walk or talk and Lucy became his voice.

His death hasn't resonated nationally like that of his older brother, Herman, 11 years ago. I'll always remember that one, too. Upon arrival at work that day in Gainesville, Fla., the first thing my boss said to me was, “;Duke died! Duke died.”; At first I didn't know what he was talking about.

Of course, both losses were felt by many, many here in Hawaii; Herman was also a local sports great and all-around good guy. But, apparently, playing a minor role on “;Hawaii 5-0”; makes you more famous around the country than living a real-life drama because you refuse to let a deadly disease bring you down.

I can't say meeting Charlie Wedemeyer changed my life. But it did re-affirm some values, such as never giving up, trying to make the best of rough situations, and how family love can make all the difference.

Stories abound of how he has helped so many, and not just through the books, speaking tours and movies. A man recovering from a car accident that left him a quadriplegic and killed a friend was encouraged by Charlie, who “;inspired me to look beyond the unseen.”;

We wish we had a different reason to share Charlie's story again today, such as a homecoming like the one in 2005.

He must like that on his last day a pitcher and an umpire continued to turn a perfect mess into something good, and that a local girl moved to last in the lineup hit the big home run. Those who inspire love those who inspire.

And there's a smile with our tears because we know that he is back to breaking the kind of tackles he did at Honolulu Stadium.

“;Anyone who knows about Charlie knows that he lives and breathes and runs,”; said my friend David Kawamoto. “;Faster than he ever has.”;


Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at, and