Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 9 Jan 2005 09:58:24 -0500

My Big Brother

RUNNING COMMENTARY 553

My brother Mike and I didn't look or exercise alike, eat or sleep alike. He was two years older but looked a decade my senior, not because I'm youthful but because he aged faster. He outweighed me by almost 100 pounds, not because I'm thin but because his food intake far outran his activity.

But Mike and I were more alike than anyone would have guessed at first glance. Most of all we shared a lifelong passion for sports -- one sport for me, all of them for him.

He worked two jobs at once -- one for pay as information director for an Iowa high school athletic association, the other voluntary for anyone who wanted his statistical services for sports in his home state. His greatest athletic love was the Drake Relays, which he served for 40 years.

For all the writing that my brother did, he almost never mentioned himself. (Again unlike his brother.) One of the very few pieces that did was a biographical sketch requested by his employer. He wrote this as if talking about someone else.

I quote his own words: "In grade school Mike used crayolas and dice for 'play' track meets complete with scoring." From the next bedroom I would hear him announcing these nighttime races: "Here comes Orange on the outside... Black is dropping back." He recorded all the results.

Mike was once a better athlete than he ever would let on later. He started at quarterback on our high school's football team, played a strong game of basketball at five-feet-seven and ran the hurdles -- LOW hurdles, anyway -- until a knee blew out in his junior year.

As a senior he hobbled along gamely on 1-1/2 legs. We played on the same football team that year. Mike was the reserve quarterback by then, and I ran the ball only in games when the outcome was well assured.

In one blowout game we found ourselves in the same backfield. With the ball on the one-yard line, Mike could have scored on a sneak.

Instead he decided that his little brother should have the touchdown. He called my number twice in a row, and I went nowhere. He tried the same play again, this time with him pushing me across the line.

That was Mike, and would remain Mike the rest of his life. He sought no headlines for himself. His joy came from singling out others for attention and then pushing them across their goal lines.

He found a term paper of mine that I'd written for a high school class and sent it to Omaha's newspaper, which I wouldn't have done myself. This became my first full-length article to see print.

My admiration for Mike grew through the years. He was a rare and lucky man whose work and hobby were the same. He did what he was born to do, and he had employers who let him do it in his own quirky way.

He gave himself so fully to this -- what was it? not a job or a career, but a calling and a passion -- that his work habits might have cut his life short. While recording the triumphs of healthy youngsters, he neglected his own health.

Mike smoked for 30 years before a health crisis scared that habit out of him in the 1990s. This brother who had never shown any self-discipline in physical matters went from puffing several packs a day to never lighting up again. I was never prouder of him.

The smoking still had left his lungs damaged. They gave out as 2004 was ending.

He was 63, but as our brother-in-law Elliott Evans says, "Mike packed 126 years of living into his 63 by sleeping so little and doing two or three things at once." He had found his true path early and stayed on it to the end.

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