31 Days of Inspirational Biography: Charlie Wedemeyer, a Motivational Speaker Who Couldn’t Speak

Charlie's VictoryI have never been a sports fan (except during the Olympics), so I don’t remember what first brought Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer’s book, Charlie’s Victory, to my attention. But it has been one of my favorite biographies.

Charlie grew up in Hawaii, where he was a star athlete and quarterback. He went on to play football for Michigan State University and eventually ended up as the head football coach at Los Gatos High School in CA. (His brother, Herman Wedemeyer, was an actor and played Duke on the old Hawaii Five-O series.)

When Charlie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he began to lose the use of his body bit by bit, and he was originally given one year to live. He wanted to keep coaching as long as possible. PBS made an Emmy-wining documentary about Charlie and Lucy called One More Season, which documents the time up until Charlie had to retire, his very last game closing with an almost fairy-tale ending.

After retiring from coaching, Charlie and Lucy began public speaking, even though by this time he could not speak much. Lucy “interpreted” for him.

The courage of both of them on this journey was inspiring and heart-warming. Lucy told him early on, “This isn’t your disease, it’s our disease.” One incident that stood out to me was when Charlie began to feel he was being a burden and it would be better for his family if he had died. Lucy said, “We’d rather have you this way than not at all.” Another incident was when Charlie was rushed to the ER, unable to breathe. A nurse told Lucy that this was the natural path with ALS patients, and she needed to be willing to let him go. Another nurse told her about portable respirators (like we saw Christoper Reeve and others using years later). When Lucy asked the first nurse about them, she actually got angry with Lucy, but Lucy prevailed, and Charlie had several more years on the portable respirator, even traveling to see his family in Hawaii.

One of their main goals in the years since Charlie’s diagnosis was to give others hope. One of Charlie’s nurses was able to show him and Lucy how they could invite the Lord Jesus Christ to be their own Lord and Savior, and not long afterward a friend came for a visit and spent some time of intense discipling, which Charlie soaked up like a sponge. They are very honest in the book about the struggles they endured as well as the faith that sustained them.

A short video about them is here:

What made the biggest difference in their lives was their faith, which is discussed here:

Charlie lived over 30 years with ALS, far beyond the original one year diagnosis.

A news report at his death in 2010:

See also the Charlie Wedemeyer Family Outreach site.

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)