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Life lessons come in many forms

While watching any sport, it’s only natural for your interest and focus to gravitate toward those special few who rise above all others when it comes to competition.

There’s the quarterback with his keen eye for execution and physical tools to distribute the football with a flick of a wrist.

Or maybe it’s the goal-scoring soccer player who slices through the pitch and finds the back of the net with ease.

Each sport has those certain players who turn heads and, rightfully so, gain most of the accolades.

But I learned at a young age that not all athletes can follow that path. In reality, there are unsung heroes simply doing all they can in order to give those chosen ones an opportunity to shine.

My biggest educator on that fact was my older brother Brian, who was blessed with the heart and drive of a champion but a body that was, shall we say, lower to the ground than most coaches would want. Brian topped out at a sturdy 5-foot-6, but every inch was full of determination to prove that he could do anything you asked him to do.

You need to tackle that monster coming out of the backfield? He’d tell you he was born to bring the pain.

You want to see him soar up for a dunk? He’d simply ask you to let him stretch his legs first.

You need a rebound? Hopefully everyone else had met their insurance premiums because he was coming away with the ball.

There never lacked courage and conviction on his part that he could get the job done, but his roles while playing sports were more blue collar than anything else and made me realize their importance.

During his days in soccer, he was an “enforcer” on the back line of the defense who had perfected the slide tackle, as well as a forearm to the ribs capable of slowing anyone trying to throw their weight around. He could boom the ball with either of his powerful legs and was quick enough to surprise opponents in his ability to track down the ball, but I don’t believe he ever ventured far enough upfield to take a shot on goal.

He wasn’t allowed to play football — our mother swore none of us would play after my older brother Kevin cycled through the system — but he would’ve made a perfect middle linebacker given his stocky build and competitive nature. We spent a childhood playing in the street or rocky patches of dirt and even there he was more interested in lowering the boom despite potential collateral damage.

When we grew up playing basketball, Brian and I would take on all comers at the nearby park — often grown men — and break their spirits because no one was more of a dogged defender than he was. He loved driving the lane and dropping dimes to his lanky little brother or floating in these one-handed gems from the free-throw line that left you scratching your head at their efficiency.

Brian’s fearless approach to sports transferred to stints with skiing (snow and water), tennis, golf and beyond — none of which was done with poetic form but all made manageable due to his sheer will to conquer any challenge.

Anyone who has followed and appreciated my coverage of wrestling can send all their thanks Brian’s way. After years of us growing up in the south and watching “professional” wrestling on Saturday mornings, he finally got into the mat room during his junior high days in Oklahoma. He spent his first couple seasons “counting lights” as he put it but showed me firsthand all that goes into dedicating yourself mind, body and soul to a sport that delivers you little more than personal pride when all is said and done.

Coincidentally, the biggest pain I thought I would ever endure corresponded with Brian’s desire to hone his wrestling skills. While he would put me into starting positions to work on things a true wrestler needs to practice, often snapping down for single-leg attacks whenever I ventured through the living room, he also felt the need to practice the deeper arts of our beloved TV wrestling with figure four leg locks applied to me whenever he was bored.

On one particular day, Brian learned that it can be difficult to hit your target when attempting a standing suplex since you’re facing the opposite direction. Coincidentally, I learned seconds later that your body actually can lose all of its air when you come crashing down beyond a soft bed and land instead on the hard floor below.

As my roommate from Day 1, Brian was equal parts my first friend as well as my first tormentor, with brotherly love as the foundation for each. If anyone finds me funny, they should know it’s only because I was forced to try to keep up with him that I generated a quick-witted nature that paled in comparison to his.

He taught me many things as I followed in his footsteps, and the latest lesson has been the hardest to take but one I feel everyone deserves to hear.

Brian was always the life of any gathering, and he loved a nice martini or whatever was available to drink. Never in his days was Brian the type to drink to excess where he was a fall-down type or noticeably intoxicated, and he really didn’t take up drinking alcohol until he was around 25.

It all began with a familial way of coming home and having a martini or drink after a long day at the office or wherever. His drinking was almost entirely social, and the intent was to have a good time and relax with friends to share stories or make some new ones.

Over the last seven years, as he said, he began to use alcohol more regularly to “level him off,” and last week he dubbed himself a “functioning alcoholic,” meaning most had no idea he was even doing what he was doing when it came to daily sips here and there.

When I visited my brother one month ago for an overnight stay in Vancouver, Wash., he was in great spirits and looked normal and good, other than how we all could be in better shape as we advance in age.

Shortly thereafter, however, his liver must have decided it had enough and just stopped working. That led to kidney issues and a Hepatorenal Syndrome that limited his mobility, cognitive ability and tragically cut short his effervescent life this past Saturday with my family and other loved ones by his side.

Brian Lark Henry had just turned 46 years old on Sept. 9 and had no idea such a turn of events could happen so quickly. His life was lived to the fullest with two beautiful daughters, hundreds of loving friends and myriad stories we’ll all take with us to hopefully share with him again someday.

Each day is a gift and it’s all about what you do with it. Brian gave me gifts for a lifetime, as well as some heartfelt words of wisdom this past Wednesday: The world would be a better place if everyone just hugged each other more.

This is my replacement hug for him today, as well as anyone else who has read something here that touches a nerve.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry