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Charlie Wedemeyer dies at 64; high school football coach inspired many in battle with Lou Gehrig's disease

The Los Gatos High School coach lived with the disease for over 30 years and talked to players through his wife, Lucy. Their story was the subject of a 1980s TV movie.

June 05, 2010|By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

Charlie Wedemeyer, the inspirational high school football coach who battled Lou Gehrig's disease for more than 30 years, has died. He was 64.

Wedemeyer died early Thursday in a San Jose hospital of pneumonia and was surrounded by family and friends, said his wife, Lucy. He had undergone five surgeries in the last two weeks because of intestinal blockages.

"The last two weeks were actually a gift to me, kind of getting us ready," his wife said. "He was amazing right till the end."

Wedemeyer was a successful coach at Los Gatos High School, even after being diagnosed at 30 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The incurable disease attacks the nervous system and destroys the ability of people to control their muscles.

Although he was initially given one to three years to live, Wedemeyer continued to coach, leading Los Gatos to a 78-18-1 record and seven league titles.

Early in his battle with the disease, he lost the ability to walk and speak. He was confined to a wheelchair and talked to his players through Lucy, using a language of blinks, eyebrow raises and cheek twitches to communicate with her. Their story attracted national attention, and they were the subject of a made-for-TV movie in the 1980s.

Born Feb. 19, 1946, in Honolulu, Wedemeyer was a football star while growing up in Hawaii and at Michigan State University.

Many of his former players consider him their most inspirational coach by far, among them Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, who played at Los Gatos High and later Stanford University.

"There are times when practice gets hard, hot double days, struggles that you face both on and off the football field," Edwards told The Times last fall. "But you haven't experienced anything close to what he's gone through with his life."

Besides his wife, Wedemeyer is survived by their daughter, Carri, and son, Kale; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held June 19 at Calvary Church in Los Gatos, and Wedemeyer will be laid to rest in Honolulu.

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