ALS – Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease
My family moved to Los Gatos, CA when I was a junior in high school. At my new school, I joined the wrestling team. Many of my friends were on the football team. Charlie Wedemeyer was the varsity team head coach. I did not know him well when I was there. Years later it came out that Coach Wedemeyer was diagnosed with Lou Gerhig’s disease (ALS) and given one to three years to live. He continued to coach and his wife Lucy ended up reading his lips when he could no longer speak loudly. This is a man who was prep player of the decade in Hawaii, all-star football player at Michigan State, a black belt in karate, and varsity football coach. He was defined most of his life by his very athletic ways. Suddenly his entire body is deteriorating; and he has a young wife and 2 children.
Their Story Becomes a Book, Documentary, and Movie
Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer’s story is so amazing because, when most would have tried to find a way to end their lives in some way, or give up, Charlie chose to live his life with purpose, dignity, courage, humor, and tremendous love! A man who could no longer move from the neck down, could not talk, eat food, or hug people with his arms. They made a very compelling, Emmy Award winning documentary about Charlie and Lucy called “One More Season“. They also published their own book from their points of view, titled “Charlie’s Victory“. Soon after the documentary and book came out, CBS produced a movie on Charlie and Lucy, and coaching with ALS called, “Quiet Victory“. with Pam Dawber playing Lucy, and Michael Nouri playing Charlie. The link on the movie title is for renting the movie on Amazon Video.
In another clip that I have here, Stephen Hawking talks about Charlie’s positive attitude; which then shows Charlie and Lucy discussing how pain and suffering is inevitable, but misery is optional (it’s a choice, not a diagnosis!).
On a personal note, years after high school, Charlie and Lucy became very dear friends of mine.After they met the love of my life, Lily, they really showed her their love. After we got engaged, Charlie had his nurses prepare a seven-course meal for us, by his exact directions- even though he could not eat food except what was put in his food. The four of us had a wonderful evening together celebrating love and marriage with great food, laughter, joy, and love!
Documentary with Brian Teaching About Dealing With Adversity
At the bottom of this section on the Wedemeyer’s I have added links to some video clips from the award winning documentary created by the late Don Mapes, titled “Courage to Live“.
The link (above) is to an introduction to the entire documentary. As that documentary was being made, Lucy and Charlie wanted to add the educational component to the DVD showing me teaching and explaining how I do the adversity unit in my classroom. I began doing this unit after I lost three students to students in my first three years of teaching. One student I lost in the first week of student teaching. The other two I was very close to and lost them a year apart from each other. I created the unit as a way to let students know they always have choices, and to give them an outlet to talk about things that we really never do with teenagers. So Don came to my classroom for a couple of days and added 15 minutes to the “Courage To Live” documentary on teaching teens how to deal with adversity by using Charlie and Lucy’s story. I would read portions of their book, “Charlie’s Victory“, show video clips, and get them to see how a seemingly hopeless situation can really become a positive. It shows them that no matter what the adversity, there are always choices.
Ironically, the very last lesson I taught to my classes before having to retire due to my Parkinson’s Disease was the unit on the Wedemeyer’s and dealing with adversity. I had missed a lot of classes as I struggled to come to terms with letting go of the career I so dearly loved.
Since my first symptoms appeared, I taught six years while dealing with the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. I had six student aides and my loving wife all helping me make it through each day, creating new lesson plans, and trying to keep up with assignments and grades. It was all quite exhausting.
Finally, after my wife broke down in tears seeing how wiped out I was at the end of the day, when I literally could not move to even sit up or get out of bed one afternoon after teaching. As her tears fell off her cheeks as she saw a wreck I was, I realized I was denial as to how hard teaching had become. Or, as a friend put it, I was “in de Nile” (the river).
So, I worked up the strength to make it back to the classroom for two last days. I really wanted to at least teach the adversity unit before I let go of the students I had my last year. It was honestly quite powerful. I remember one class where virtually everyone was crying at the end when I told them this was my last day as a teacher. It was a raw and honest set of emotions, a blessing that I still treasure.
Here is the link to the story that appeared on the front page of the newspaper from that day, written by Teri Vance.
Here are 4 clips of Brian teaching and discussing the adversity unit from the educational portion of the “Courage to Live” documentary.
The narrator is Michael Nouri (who played Charlie in the movie):
Clip 1 – What the Adversity Unit is about
Clip 2 – Showing the students positives to adversity
Clip 3 – It’s about choices
Clip 4 – Student Responses