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[November 30, 2008]
Scholarship honors teen sailor
Nov 30, 2008 (Daily Breeze - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A Westchester family has established a scholarship in memory of their 19-year-old son, a collegiate sailor who had intended to travel the world on a boat and work in international business.
The Peter "P.J." McGonigle Wenner Scholarship will help teenagers attend Loyola High School in Los Angeles, where Wenner excelled as a student in the Catholic school's class of 2007.
Wenner died following a Nov. 8 accident while sailing with his University of Hawaii at Manoa teammates. Wenner became caught under water when the boat capsized, and was removed from life support three days later.
"He was just an incredible kid," said his father, Peter Wenner. "He was focused on his friends. His religious beliefs and his sailing were really his main passions in his life."
A member of the university's varsity team, the young man was aboard an Aussie 18-foot skiff off the coast of Honolulu when the boat capsized.
"His harness got caught in the netting of the trampoline," his father said. "He couldn't get out of his harness."
By the time his teammates and coaches could free him, Wenner had been underwater for as long as 15 minutes. Rescuers revived him, but he fell into a coma.
"They did everything just right," Wenner said. "Unfortunately it was an accident."
Wenner's father and mother Susan received word from their younger son, Matt, who also is a student and sailor at the University of Hawaii.
Unable to get a
flight on a Saturday night, they listened on Matt's cell phone as a priest offered last rites and flew on Sunday morning.
Streams of Hawaii students and friends filled the waiting rooms at Straub Hospital in Honolulu. Hundreds of others called and asked to speak to the comatose young man. His family placed the cell phone to his ear.
"There were so many stories in the room. It made the whole process easier," his father said. "The staff kept coming up to us and saying, 'Do you want these kids here?' We said, 'Absolutely. Keep them here. This is who he is."'
A few days later, doctors found his brain activity had ceased. His parents decided to turn off the machines.
About 1,200 people attended his funeral.
Wenner grew up in Westchester, one of four sons. He enrolled in golf and sailing programs at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey.
When it came time to go to college, he chose the University of Hawaii, which has a top sailing program.
A sophomore, Wenner participated in several regattas last year. He finished fifth at the Pacific Coast Conference Sailing Men's Singlehanded Championships, and placed sixth at the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Sloop National Championship in Fort Worth, Texas.
In September, he finished sixth while competing with Hawaii's coed team at the Pacific Coast Conference Sailing Men's Singlehanded Championships in San Diego.
"Peter represented everything good about being an athlete, sailor and student here at the University of Hawaii," Hawaii's Coach Andy Johnson said in a statement. "He was the heart and soul of our team and we will all miss him immensely."
Wenner enjoyed sailing so much he had applied for a "semester at sea" program that would enable him to take classes aboard a boat while traveling the world for five months.
After his death, Wenner's parents found essays in his room that recalled his "most memorable experience" as an "urban plunge," where, as a student at Loyola, he spent four days living in a Skid Row shelter, showering and feeding the homeless.
The young man loved to dance, eat and hike. He enjoyed animals and the ocean, where he also surfed.
"He was a fun kid and he studied hard," his father said.
In the aftermath of his death, the sailing community is examining a rule change to require that the harnesses participants wear on skiff boats be quick release, enabling victims of accidents to free themselves easily, his father said.
Although his father believes a breakaway harness could have prevented his son's death, he said his family is "at peace with what happened."
"We are obviously saddened by his death. We have moments where we are angry and upset," the father said. "But generally we are at peace with it.
"He really lived life the way you are supposed to. His friendships are unbelievable. His beliefs were solid. I don't think there's a single kid or person who would have a bad thing to say about him."
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