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Teacher says hospitalized teenager a fighter

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Lesleigh Groce, left, jogs with Sarah McLevish in the school gymnasium Friday morning, March 7, 2014, in the Launch program at Franklin Community High School.
Lesleigh Groce, left, jogs with Sarah McLevish in the school gymnasium Friday morning, March 7, 2014, in the Launch program at Franklin Community High School.

Sarah McLevish likes to win, and those who know her believe that quality will help save her life.

When she plays basketball, McLevish is tenacious and constantly works to outscore other players, Franklin Community High School teacher Lesleigh Groce said. But that drive and periodic stubbornness are coupled with a sweet side that’s made McLevish a big sister in the high school’s alternative program for freshmen and sophomores trying to graduate on time, Groce said.

That sweet side is also why Deb Brown-Nally, mother of McLevish’s boyfriend, Mark Nally, gave the 16-year-old girl the nickname Sunshine.


“She just was always fun, full of life and smiling,” Brown-Nally said.

McLevish has been in critical condition at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for the past week. She was one of three teens pulled underwater by a strong current at the base of the Big Blue River dam in Edinburgh on June 6. Two other teens, Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne, died this week. McLevish and Chadbourne both surfaced after they were pulled under and were taken to the shore by Nally and Trent Crabb, where bystanders began CPR.

Groce has visited McLevish and her family several times at the hospital. When Groce sees McLevish, she remembers the girl who always fights to win.

“I know the kind of kid she is. I was that kid,” Groce said. “And she really touches my heart because she just is such an awesome kid. She has so much more living to do. It’s not her time.”

McLevish was in Groce’s family and consumer science class for the first half of the 2013-2014 school year. Groce invited McLevish to join the school’s alternative program, LAUNCH, during the second semester as a way to ensure she finished the school year with mostly A’s and B’s on her report card.

McLevish soon became an encouragement for other students in the program.

Students work closely together to support and motivate one another to complete and pass their courses. McLevish became a leader in the program, making sure that other students were finishing their assignments on time, Groce said.

She’s also one of the students who started working out with Eric Ekis, helping and encouraging the 14-year-old to lose weight and live healthier.

Ekis and other students in LAUNCH started regularly working out together, and Groce and McLevish became fitness partners.

Groce quickly learned that McLevish’s goal to be the best wasn’t limited to basketball. She regularly outran her teacher as well.

“If I’d run fast, she’d run faster,” Groce said.

Groce is convinced McLevish’s determination is what’s going to keep her alive.

“She has a stinker side to her, and I think that’s what’s going to pull her through this,” Groce said.

Outside school, McLevish spent lots of time with Nally, whom she’d been dating since November, Brown-Nally said. She went with the family to Florida for spring break this year.

One of Brown-Nally’s favorite memories from that trip was watching her son and McLevish swim in the ocean and use boogie boards to ride the waves.

“It was fun to watch their joy,” she said. “It was fun to sit on the beach as the mom and watch the joy that they had.”

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