City Lights: Friends know his legacy well

So far in life, I've never had to deal with losing a loved one unexpectedly. I'm very lucky in that regard. One of my high school teachers, in the midst of a stern talk to her students about treating each other with dignity, admonished us that "Tomorrow is not a given." It's the kind of statement that can seem like a remote possibility, until the day it isn't.

Consider the recent death of Eric "Octopus" Norris, the mixed martial artist and athletic trainer who worked at Anytime Fitness in Fountain Valley. Norris, 30, fell off an inner tube while boating in Lake Havasu this summer, then died after a hit-and-run boat driver struck him in the water.

Weeks after Norris' death, I attended a memorial service for him at Mile Square Regional Park. At least one friend, fighting back tears, told of how happy Norris was in his final moments and how swiftly his death came. The entire scene was filled with remnants of a life ended in progress β€” a table in front displayed Norris' martial arts clothes and medals along with his motorcycle jacket, acoustic guitar and other prized possessions.

Moreover, the table featured photos of Norris' 7-year-old son, whom those in attendance called the central joy of his life. Norris, they said, loved children, most of all his own. And in the wake of his death, a group of friends and family members have embarked on a mission that they believe would honor Norris' legacy.

Sunday, the group hosted a garage sale to raise funds for martial arts programs for underprivileged children. The sale took place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Coast Martial Arts, 2990 Grace Lane, Costa Mesa, and the organizers accepted donated items the day before. Mike Dunn, a longtime friend of Norris who works at Anytime Fitness in Fountain Valley, said proceeds will help pay for students' tuition at two Costa Mesa schools: South Coast Martial Arts and the Global Jiu Jitsu Academy.

"Eric was my best friend and he was an avid martial artist, and he loved kids," Dunn said. "I thought, what would be a better way to honor him than to do something like this?"

The sale, according to Anytime Fitness owner Clark Bevans, netted $4,500 β€” an amount that he said would pay for tuition and uniforms for 30 kids. About 800 people showed up at the event, while the day before, the community turned out in droves to contribute items.

"People pulled up the big trucks and donated everything they didn't want anymore," Bevans said. "We got tables, barbecues, couches, clothes, toys. We got a home gym. You name it, we got it."

I asked Bevans if Norris had ever voiced a desire to do a fundraiser for the underprivileged. He replied that no, he hadn't β€” but then, money was never a central concern for Norris, who often coached children and adults at Anytime Fitness for free.

"He would always be in the dojo helping the kids out, having fun," Bevans said.

Norris' death still remains unresolved, as the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department has yet to identify the hit-and-run driver. Ultimately, though, Dunn said, solving the mystery would be a small consolation to Norris' loved ones.

"Eric held that family together," he said. "It's a tough loss."

For information on how to contribute to the cause, call (714) 968-9966 or visit http://www.ericoctopusnorris.comhttp://www.ericoctopusnorris.com.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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