Swimmer Gustavo Penilla Died From Heart Attack During Waikiki Roughwater Swim

by Noelle Theodoulou 2

September 19th, 2022 News, Open Water

54-year-old Long Beach Masters swimmer Gustavo Penilla died after suffering from a heart attack during the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim on Sept. 5th.

During the race, which sees athletes swim across Waikiki Bay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Penilla reportedly rolled over on his back. Nearby swimmers stopped immediately and alerted lifeguards who attended to him.

He was then transported to a local hospital where he died, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Penilla had worked as a senior account manager for the cereal company Post Consumer Brands for the last 18 years. He often donated cereal to fill goodie bags for participants in the Naples swim and other events. Penilla balanced his full-time job with training on the SWIM Long Beach Masters team for the last three to four years.

While he was a student, Penilla earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and later received his master’s at California State University, Long Beach.

The Waikiki Roughwater Swim returned after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2.4-mile race began at 8:30 a.m. on Sans Souci Beach and ended at Duke Kahanamoku Beach near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort.

Aquatic Capital of America’s Vice President Lucy Johnson promptly reported the results of the nearly 700 swimmers who finished. Her last message notified everyone of Penilla’s cardiac arrest, which occurred about an hour into the race.

The Outrigger Canoe Club accompanied lifeguards and a private water safety team to respond to Penilla’s distress. The lifeguards performed CPR while bringing Penilla ashore and quickly handed him over to Emergency Medical Services personnel. He was in critical condition when he arrived at The Queen’s Medical Center and was pronounced dead soon after.

Penilla’s teammates from SWIM Long Beach Masters did a memorial swim at practice two days after the open water race. The group left lane 3 open and placed Penilla’s picture and a box of Fruity Pebbles at the end of the lane. Other friends and fellow swimmers gathered early the next morning to swim out near the Seal Beach Pier in Penilla’s honor.

Katie Rowe, who is the coach of the Long Beach Masters group, attested to Penilla’s kindness and hard work in the pool.

“He was always a good swimmer, but he really put in the work [the past two years] to become very fast,” Rowe said.

Though the GoFundMe page is now closed, Swim Long Beach raised $15,613 to pay for memorial services.

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11 days ago

Thank you for sharing the news of the loss of our friend, Gustavo Penilla. Wonderful person, gone way too young. I’ll always remember his big smile! Always smiling, always ready to help others. One small correction, though. I was sharing to one of our local newspaper writers the results of our local Long Beach swimmers who had participated, not all 700 or so. I do remember wondering why Gustavo had not been listed in the results, because he had been training for a long time with the group of Long Beach swimmers in the race. It wasn’t until later that evening when I heard the tragic news.

Carlos Penilla
Reply to  Lucy Johnson
4 days ago

Ramon and Magdalena Penilla thank you very much for remembering their sweet son, Gustavo. He was the most amazing son, brother, uncle and friend. The best person type of person that you could ever meet. Abrazos.

Take note that Gustavo’s family did not accept GoFundMe for any memorial services and asked that all the funds be returned.