Eric graduated from Nitro High School in size-58 pants. He started going to the Cross Lanes YMCA. "Day after day, you'd see me waddling on the treadmill. There's no other word for it. I was determined. The employees cheered me on."
By midsummer, his mother insisted he climb on the scales. "Imagine being happy about weighing 350 pounds! It was one of the happiest days of my life."
He started building retaining walls for his grandmother's stonework business. "At first, he could only lift small rocks," his father recalls. "Now he lifts 94-pound bags of cement with no trouble."
Said Eric, "I made it down to 330, then was stuck for about a year. Most people hit a plateau."
In a financial crisis, the family had to drop their YMCA membership. His parents work nights, cleaning office buildings.
In late 2011, Eric and his dad, a diabetic, started going to West Virginia Health Right. They looked at Eric's blood sugar. He tested positive for Type 2 diabetes.
During that first visit, nurse practitioner Michele Selanik asked him, 'Are you serious about changing?' and I said, 'You bet. For me, it's life and death,'" Eric recalled.
"He impressed me from the beginning with his gumption and determination," Selanik said. She got him into their diabetes education classes and Weight Watchers group so he could change his eating and grocery habits.
"I've made it down to 280," Eric said. "That still sounds heavy, but remember where I started. I've lost a whole person."
His Health Right records show his blood sugar (A1C) in the normal range, down by a third.
His whole family revamped their eating habits. "No more ice cream and candy," said Sharon Duesenberry. "We don't want that stuff here to tempt us."
Eric lives with his parents near Cross Lanes. He's been reading up on nutrition. He says things like, "Do you know that they genetically modify wheat, and processed wheat is a big cause of obesity?
"This is a life change, not a temporary change," he said. "They tell us that at Weight Watchers. Junk food is all around you, but you can still take control of your health and life.
"This is you, taking your life in your own hands, doing what you need to do. I'm learning how to use spices, steaming raw vegetables. I can make about six dishes with chicken. We only use breads Dr. Oz approves of. I bring labels from cereal boxes and stuff to Weight Watchers, and they explain it to me."
Early in November, Eric started a new job. "I've got my own office building to clean now," he said. He and his dad started back at the Y, working out several times a week.
He offers some advice. "When you realize that you are -- I'm going to say it -- fat, don't be discouraged. You'll be amazed what you can do, exercising, not eating junk food or processed food, cutting down on portion sizes.
"You may feel there's no hope. Keep going. You can't give up. That day in the gym, something clicked for me, and I realized that if anything was going to be different for me, it had to be me that made it different.
"I use that day as a springboard. When I have a setback, I remember it, and keep moving forward."
Sometimes he thinks about college or further training, he said. "But for now, it's enough to see that I actually can make myself better. Right now, I don't have complicated goals. My goal is to fit into normal pants. I'll think about the rest when it's time."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.