THIBODAUX, LA (WAFB) - When it comes to health and fitness, Louisiana ranks almost dead last, which makes the latest subject of Runner's World magazine one of the least likely.
"There are specific things we are doing that we can correct," said Josh LaJaunie, a 38-year-old Thibodaux native. "Let's stop making excuses for them. There's always another reason not to do it right. Just stop. Fix it."
LaJaunie's Cajun roots and ability to defy the odds is what captured the attention of Runner's World Magazine during its Cover Search contest.
"I saw the Cover Search contest on social media and a couple people tagged me on it and said I should share my running breakthrough story," he explained. "After that I went on social media and asked people to vote and shared the link. I never really got that many votes, but I guess it was just enough to get me into the next round."
This is the third year Runner's World has featured its Cover Search contest. People from across the U.S. entered with the hopes of becoming one of two winners. When LaJaunie learned he was one of the winners, his tearful reaction was caught on camera.
"They came here a few weeks ago to video me and while they had everything set up, the Editor-in-Chief [David Willey] called me and told me that I had won the whole thing," LaJaunie recalled.
That moment was one that came with years of hard work and sacrifice. One step at a time, LaJaunie moved from being dangerously unhealthy to an inspirational success story.
"I weighed over 400 pounds," he explained. "I had been going to New Orleans a lot for the Saints' games and we had a lot of fun. But my whole life leading up to that, I was always a big guy. I had made a big final push of getting to that size in the last two years of my weight gain."
In 2010, the Saints defied the odds and won the big game.
"The Super Bowl celebration, all the consumption, that really led to me getting that big, but it also inspired me to be impossible in another way," LaJaunie explained. "It might seem like a small thing, but it was a big deal to me. I took it serious and I started to try to correct the wrong."
Like most in south Louisiana, football has always played a major part in LaJaunie's life. In fact, he graduated high school with a sports scholarship to Nicholls State.
"I got hurt and I quit," LaJaunie said. "I came home and spent the next several years floating until I met my wife. She urged me to go back to school."
Nearly a decade later, LaJaunie returned to finish what he started. With a looming graduation date of December 2011, he took focus on his next step.
"I was going to be 10 years older than everybody and 100 pounds fatter than everybody," he said. "I was trying to match my outside with how my inside felt, and so I just started moving and growing."
The man who in 2016 placed third in a 100-mile ultramarathon is the same man who could only jog a half-mile five years ago.
"I was suffering through it, because I just wanted to get results," he said. "But then I got fond of it once I did start seeing results. I fell in love with all the people that do running and I wanted to show respect for running."
Over the years he transferred the same love he has for football to the sport of running. He learned the names of all the top runners and winning the Cover Search contest afforded him the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I got to meet so many amazing people," he said. "One of the coolest things as a runner is that Bart Yasso [inventor of the Yasso 800s, a marathon-training schedule used by thousands around the world] knows me personally and he's my friend and I'm in awe and I think he likes me. I'm still digesting that.
"And Dave Willey, the Editor-in-Chief of Runner's World, they're so really cool to me," continued. "I've been studying these guys for years."
Going from one extreme to another has required a complete overhaul in not only his physical routine, but his mental strength as well.
"When I started to correct the physical thing, it's not just correcting the aesthetics, it's about the whole body. That was my next education and my next growth and that's gotten me to be a voice for the people who have been twisting in the wind in life," he said. "A whole array of good decisions comes from truly digging yourself. That's where it's got to start."
The full article in Runner's World hits the stands on Tuesday, November 15. To learn more about Eileen Moon, the co-winner, click here.