Until a few months ago, Holly Gebke and Nick Shepherd had never met even though both attend Collinsville High School. Then, they became an unbeatable team in a state forensic medicine competition.

After crushing their opponents, the students are preparing for a June trip to Florida for a chance at a national championship and college scholarship money.

First comes Saturday’s high school graduation for Gebke.

“I’m very excited. My family has been counting down the days to the event,” he said.

The other reason Gebke is excited is her unexpected chance at a Health Occupation Students of America(HOSA) national championship. HOSA is a national organization for future health professionals.

In March Gebke and her teammate, sophomore Nick Shepherd, competed in the Illinois HOSA forensic medicine competition. Among their tests was examining a computerized mannequin used by medical students.

“Nick and I had to analyze a body and we had to figure out the cause of death, the time of death, and the manner of death,” said Gebke, “and we had to write an analysis of that.

Holly and Nick blew away the competition, including elite students from Chicago. Eighty-five is a perfect score. Nick and Holly scored a 67 while the runner up tallied just 24.

“They just amazed the judges,” said Collinsville High School instructor and HOSA advisor Sherry Modeer, “so they’re very hopeful about their chances at nationals.”

The HOSA national competition begins June 21 in Orlando, Florida.

Shepherd said the lopsided victory was not expected.

“I was incredibly surprised," he said. "When we were up there and they said we got first place, I felt like I was about to cry.”

To fully appreciate Shepherd’s reaction, you need to know more about his personal journey. When he was four years old, he didn’t speak. He was completely non-verbal. The diagnosis was autism, specifically Asperger Syndrome.

“I’m able to think like any other person, but my social skills are, to a decent degree, lacking,” said Shepherd.

When asked how autism has affected his life, Shepherd said he has been bullied and lived with depression. Then he said he’s proud of his accomplishments.

“I’m very proud of myself,” said Shepherd. "Any time I feel bad or sad, I look in the mirror. I think of myself, how far I came. I’ve gotten straight A’s the first semester of my high school career. I went from this state of being so shy I would barely talk to anyone and not having the skills to talk to anyone at all when I was four. To be openly expressing my feelings and opinions toward just about everyone, even strangers, I feel really great about how far I’ve came.”

Nick is grateful that he now lives with his aunt and uncle, but said the expense of the Florida trip is difficult for them.

That’s why a GoFundMe account has been set up to help the students travel to Orlando. For more information, click here.