Twenty-one year old Peter Antonini came to a realization — college just wasn’t his thing.
He’d left his hometown of San Francisco to head off to college in San Luis Obispo. But the old dream kept nagging him. Finally he quit and came back to San Francisco and applied to join the fire department.
“It was his goal and it was his dream,” said his mother, Linda Antonini
The day the acceptance letter arrived saying he was accepted to the San Francisco Fire Department’s 108th academy, Antonini met his brother in a bar and slapped the letter down in joy. He started training, running miles up-and-down the Great Highway along Ocean Beach.
“He was just running along the Great Highway, a four mile run,” said Linda Antonini. “It was right at the end of the run where he suffered cardiac arrest.”
But the young man died of an undetected heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyapathy, a phantom condition which occasionally strikes athletes. After his death in 2001, family and friends would gather on a golf course to remember him.
“It was our day to just be together and remember Peter,” Linda Antonini said. “Along the way we realized we could raise some money and do good things.”
So to honor Antonini, his family founded the Peter Patrick Madigan Antonini Foundation and started holding annual golf tournaments to raise money, much of it going to fund fire department programs. Recently, the family learned members of the San Francisco Fire Department’s Aquatic Rescue Unit had to buy their own wetsuits. So the foundation had 40 custom wetsuits made for the department which family members presented this week at Ocean Beach.
“As you can see they look great,” said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who once served in the rescue unit, “they’re very functional we’re going to save lives with these wetsuits.”
The suits were designed for Ocean Beach’s cold surf - with the fire department logo over a distinctive bright red color.
“These suits are really helpful,” said firefighter Harry Higgins, “because they help us identify each other as a team.”
The sleeve of the suit features a pair of flags - which it turns out - are a tribute to the Italian-Irish flags Antonini had tattooed on his chest - much to this mother’s chagrin. An outline of his silhouette is printed inside the suits.
“We know every single day this is just to remember him and to honor him,” said Linda Antonini, “and that he knows he’d be proud of us as we were proud of him.”