HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite his deteriorating condition, family members say Charlie Wedemeyer kept on smiling and took them on a breath-taking journey. In that respect, friends say the former high school football coach won the most important event of all -- the game of life.
Hundreds gathered at Punahou School's Thurston Chapel Sunday to remember Wedemeyer. The one-time California High School Coach of the Year died June 3rd after a courageous, decades-long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease.
Singing, dancing and a lot of smiles, as family and friends celebrated the life of a man who defied medical odds and inspired countless people along the way.
"Even though dad was diagnosed 34 years ago, and he was only supposed to live for a year, we got 34 great years with him," Kale Wedemeyer, son, said.
Long before he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, Charlie Wedemeyer was a natural-born leader on the Punahou School football and basketball teams.
"When Charlie felt like we needed more conditioning, he would yell, 'Come back," and we would all return for even more wind sprints," Chris McLachlin, high school teammate, recalled. "How symbolic those words are. From the time he contracted ALS, he spent the next 30 years launching one 'comeback' after another."
Wedemeyer went on to become a successful high school football coach in California, molding his players into phenomenal athletes even as his condition worsened.
"He made a choice," Kale Wedemeyer said. "I could either give in to it or I could keep living. While I'm living, why don't I help others live as well."
"You've been an inspiration to me and to millions of other people around the world," Pal Eldredge, friend, said. "I've always said when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well, my friend, you certainly were given a bunch of lemons and you made more lemonade than anyone could imagine."
At his side for the entire ride -- his high school sweetheart, Lucy.
"Our family is immensely grateful for the continuous and extraordinary outpouring of love and generosity of so many of you," Lucy Wedemeyer, wife, said.
"We believe very strongly that he's in Heaven now and so he doesn't have to rely on that ventilator anymore," Kale Wedemeyer said. "We look forward to seeing him again."
Another memorial was held in San Jose, California last week Saturday. Coach Wedemeyer was 64 years old.