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Gym owner carries weight heavier than most

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EMPORIA, Va. -- Strong Temple is an affordable fitness center where people in Emporia can shape their body, mind, and soul.

Through each sweat inducing, muscle-aching workout, owner Eugene Porter stands shoulder to shoulder with his clients.

The soft-spoken 40-year-old man is finally realizing his dream.

Eugene Porter

Eugene Porter

He opened Strong Temple along Halifax Street and across from the old Emporia Train Depot last winter.

"Every time you come in here you get a blessing," Porter said. "I love what I’m doing."

Eugene shares his passion for fitness with all who will listen.

But Eugene also insists on shedding light about his dark past.

It is a weight heavier than most people could carry.

"I don’t want to forget where I came from," Porter said. "The next thing that I knew, the police was at my door telling me that I shot somebody.”

It is a chapter Eugene is not proud of, but one he fully embraces.

"I tell everyone of my clients that I’ve been locked up," Porter said. "I don’t hide it from them. I don’t want anyone else to tell them my story."

In 1993, a then 17-year-old Eugene Porter, was convicted of murder. A crime to this day he claims he did not commit.

Eugene admits he was not the best behaved teenager.

He sold drugs, but says he would never take another person's life.

"I lost God when I went to prison at 17 because you’re going to tell me I’m going to spend the rest of my life, " Eugene said as his voice trailed off.

The tough teen grew up fast on the inside.

"It’s the simple things. I like smiling," Porter said. "For so many years I didn’t smile.”

His parole was denied repeatedly, so Eugene used his time wisely.

"First turned down. Second turned down. Third was turned down," Porter said. "It kept me grounded. I studied. I read."

Eugene buckled down, preparing for success on the outside.

In 2012, Porter was released after serving 18 of a 25-year stretch.

"Nobody expects you to make it," he said. "I was nervous about being called a murderer."

Not wanting his conviction define him Eugene left any lingering bitterness behind bars.

"I forgave the guy that lied on me," Porter said. "I forgave a lot of people and it made me a better person.”

Eugene’s tale of redemption inspires.

"It is very positive coming on the inside," friend and fitness client James Harvell said. "He weathered the storm. He made it out. You know and he made a life for himself upon coming out into society."

Eugene's clients appreciate his honesty and dedication.

"I mean it makes you want do it even more," client Connie Scott said.

Ty-Reke Bullock, 12, is learning how to box under Porter's watchful eye.

Ty-Reke Bullock

Ty-Reke Bullock

"He is just a caring person and always wants everybody to do better every day," Ty-Reke said.

This business owner is not wasting one minute of freedom, but don’t confuse his kindness with weakness.

"There will be pain. If you want anything you want you have to work hard for," Porter said.

"You have got to want it," Bullock added. "You have to believe in yourself."

Eugene is making many people take notice, including one of the most important people in his life -- his mom.

Eugene Porter

"To see the man he has become makes me want to cry. That strength is unbelievable," mother Vanessa Jackson said. "I try to tell him every day how proud I am of him. The man he has grown to be that is not a surprise."

For Eugene Porter training in Emporia has never sounded sweeter.

"I want to change people’s lives," Porter said. "I just want to keep helping people. In some shape form or fashion help people."

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Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.