Former 'Iolani football player died in Lake Tahoe accident trying to save friends

Former 'Iolani football player died in Lake Tahoe accident trying to save friends

RENO, NEVADA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former 'Iolani School football player is being remembered as a hero who died trying to get help for others when the group ran into trouble while paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe.

Marc Ma, 20, is presumed drowned after he went missing Friday.

According to local media reports, Ma went missing while paddleboarding with friends about 2 miles offshore in Lake Tahoe. The group was reportedly hit by large swells that knocked them off their boards.

"It's something that's symbolic of what we want our students to be. We kind of preach that here about being selfless and you sacrifice and it's not all about yourself -- and Marc gave the ultimate sacrifice for his friends and his teammates," said Wendell Look, Ma's former 'Iolani football coach.

Friends and family members describe the 'Iolani School honors graduate and red-shirt defensive end for the University of Nevada at Reno as having a heart as big as his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame.

"We found out how he passed and the way he did and we kind of found -- it was kind of peaceful. It put us at ease a little bit to know that he went trying to help people, which is what he did, which is what Marc did. He was a good kid. He was a really good kid," said Matt Ma, Marc's brother.

Matt Ma, a 2002 'Iolani graduate, competed in the Manoa Cup on Monday -- all the while driving around with his little brother's football helmet.

"He played college football, and baseball and basketball and he would've wanted me to play, so that's how I made my decision. I felt good about it," Ma said.

The former 'Iolani defensive end is remembered as a hard worker both in and out of the classroom.

"He was a competitor. He's fierce. He was a fighter. He practiced as hard as he would play in the games," said Look, adding that Marc Ma dedicated himself to playing Division One football.

"He was so focused on and driven to get to that level and he was. He was at that level. In fact, the Friday before that happened he was out here working out with one of his classmates," said Look.

Ma returned to Nevada for summer school and football training last week. Before leaving, he got together with his friend of 15 years, Spencer Kiehm.

"Just thinking about how quickly it happened. I was just in total shock when I heard," said Kiehm, who played football with him at 'Iolani.

Kiehm says he wasn't surprised to hear Ma was attempting to help his teammates when he passed away.

"He's definitely someone that really cared about the people he loved and who loved him," said the Harvard pre-med student.

Kiehm's mother put together a tribute video, which the Ma family will be using for his memorial service.

"I really appreciate what she did because all those pictures of not only me and Marc but our mutual friends -- it's just really nice to see and to relive those memories through those pictures and the slideshow. I'm really thankful that we have all of those pictures to remember him by," said Kiehm.

According to the Placer County Sheriff's Department, divers thoroughly searched the Lake Tahoe area where Ma was last spotted -- but recovery efforts have been put on hold until specialized sonar equipment arrives that will allow crews to check depths of up to 300 feet.

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