FRANKLIN, Ind. - A Johnson County high school student on a mission to lose weight is crediting his teacher with helping him out of depression and inspiring him to change.
Franklin High School freshman Eric Ekis started out obese and broken -- both physically and mentally.
Last fall, Ekis took his first step toward a long journey in Lesleigh Groce’s class.
Ekis said they talked about weight and Groce asked him his story.
Ekis’ father died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2010. That same year, the then-10-year-old also broke his leg.
As he sat at home depressed, he turned to food for comfort and shot from 200 pounds to over 500 pounds.
Ekis was an easy target for bullies at school and he admits he was just sad all the time.
Groce decided to give up her prep periods and the two started walking together.
"I knew a kid of Eric's size was going to need more than just a little bit of help sporadically," Groce said.
Ekis is now in an alternative learning program focused on health, and for the first time, his journey includes friends.
He is now surrounded by positive people, including classmates who have had struggles of their own.
Brianna Underwood’s parents are both in prison and she was getting straight Fs last semester.
She now walks too and has lost more than 20 pounds in two months. Most of those Fs have turned into As.
"Mrs. Groce. She is a very inspiration to me. She is the one that keeps me motivated every day to set my alarm clock, get my sister up and go," Underwood said.
Groce says the same about her students. They inspire each other to put one foot in front of the other and to walk on a journey together.
"I'll be back on Monday, probably a little earlier than I was today. They are, they are my heroes," Groce said.
Since Ekis started walking last fall, he has lost close to 25 pounds and has inspired several other students to get healthy as well.