An avid New Orleans Saints fan, there was a time when Josh LaJaunie of Thibodaux was nearly too big to fit in his seat in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
At over 400 pounds, LaJaunie was living the only lifestyle he had ever known.
“I was just being a good coonass,” LaJaunie said. “I grew up playing football. I was a lineman so being big was not frowned upon. I just lifted my feet and let the flow of my family take me because we were very much into hunting and fishing and cooking and deep-fat frying everything. We always were a big family. We ate everything we caught or killed and that, mixed in with all the rouxs and stews and boiled seafood, and with a good dose of beer and alcohol, that kind of got me where I was.”
But motivated by the Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV and earning a business degree from Nicholls State University, the 38-year-old native of Thibodaux has gone from 415 pounds to 185 pounds. He has given up meat and has conquered numerous running goals, including placing third in a 100-mile race in Florida earlier this month with a time of 22 hours, 45 minutes and 16 seconds.
He is now a Top 10 finalist for the Runner’s World Magazine Cover Search contest, which will recognize a male and female exemplary runner for their running accomplishments.
He was one of thousands of applicants for the cover spot.
LaJaunie shared his story and before-and-after photos of himself with Runner’s World Magazine.
The two winners will be voted on by readers and will be announced in November. They will appear on the December cover.
To vote for LaJaunie, find him on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platform and use the hashtag #outdatbayou.
FROM FOOTBALL TO FOOD TO FITNESS
LaJaunie, who is 6-foot-4, started playing college football at Arkansas-Monticello after high school but gave the game up early in his college career after suffering an injury and came back home.
He enrolled at Nicholls when he returned, but soon flunked out.
“Football was no longer a part of my life,” LaJaunie said. “Partying was part of my life. I felt free and over the next years I went up and down and weight and struggled with drugs and alcohol in that time period. When I was down to 250 at one time, I met my wife (BJ) and I got comfortable.”
LaJaunie, a native of Chackbay who runs a mobile home park and owns and operates waste water infrastructure, said the happiness he found with his wife when they married in 2008 led to more weight gain.
“She is beautiful and always expressed she loved me no matter what. I felt safe,” LaJaunie said. “I fell into the groove of hunting and fishing and tailgating, and I was always the cook. I made the best sauce picante or jambalaya. That was my role socially and that is when I got around 410-415 pounds around 2009 or 2010. I was really uncomfortable and I couldn’t fit in my seat in the Superdome. I wasn’t happy with myself.”
So after watching the Saints win the Super Bowl after the 2009 season and by focusing on working on his business degree from Nicholls, LaJaunie felt empowered.
“The fact I was educating myself was really sparking something inside of me and was making me feel better,” LaJaunie said. “I stated to have more self-respect, and I started gathering momentum. It was pretty much guaranteed I was going to get my degree. It was something I had pretty much given up on and then the Saints won the Super Bowl and impossibility happened.”
He knew he was going to have to give a presentation in front of hundreds of people for his final business class and was inspired in his studies by the positive messages in Saints coach Sean Payton’s book “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life.” So LaJaunie started going to the gym.
“I was nervous in 2011 that I would have to get in a suit and tie and get in front of all these people younger and lighter than me and it was making me very subconscious,” LaJaunie said. “I knew I had a year to feel less self-conscious in a suit. Then my friend Jeff (Thibodaux) and I joined the gym and started working out.”
From there, LaJaunie began working out and counting calories. But soon after, he started to run.
DEVELOPING A LOVE OF RUNNING
“I hated it,” LaJaunie said. “It was something I did to lose fat, but I love the Saints and love New Orleans, so I wanted to give the Crescent City Classic (10K-6.2 miles) in New Orleans a try. It’s the gold standard of races in New Orleans so me and Jeff signed up for the Crescent City Classic right before I graduated.”
Still well over 300 pounds, he finished the 2012 Crescent City Classic race in an hour and 43 minutes.
But that race had a profound impact on him.
“I really identified running as something I wanted to do outside of what it could do for weight loss,” he said. “But then I got it. I liked it.”
So the goal for LaJaunie and his wife was to finish under an hour the next year.
“It was a lofty goal, but so was getting my degree and the Saints winning the Super Bowl,” LaJaunie said. “Impossible had been shaken so many times, that I just went for it.”
LaJaunie focused on running that year and reached his goal of under an hour (59 minutes, 56 seconds) with the help of not eating processed foods leading up to the 2013 Crescent City Classic.
“I merged menu and movement together,” LaJaunie said. “I wanted to see what happened there.”
What happened was LaJaunie did his next Crescent City Classic in 43 minutes, good enough to get a poster as a Top 500 finishers in 2014 and added Top 500 finishes with two 41-minute times the last two years.
Now LaJaunie only eats plant-based foods and has run full marathons (including the New York City Marathon in 3:48 and the Rock n’Roll New Orleans in 3:24), a 50K, a 100K and ran the 100-mile race in Florida earlier this month for a third-place finish and hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon in which he will need a marathon time of 3:10.
While training for the 100-mile race, he logged around 350-380 miles per month in south Louisiana’s summer heat with a few 100-miles weeks thrown in.
Thibodaux, the lifelong friend who helped LaJaunie start his journey with trips to the gym, has witness the transformation every step of the way.
“I was out of shape and I knew my buddy was also so we signed up for the gym together. I am just so proud to see where he is now based on where he came from,” Thibodaux said. “He was jogging at a walking pace, nearly 15-minute miles and now he can run a six-and-half minute mile. He hated it at first, but he never quit. I could see the determination in his heart and in his eyes. He has come a very long way. It’s amazing.”
Through his weight loss, his change in diet and through running, LaJaunie has made a major impact on others close to him.
“I had been losing weight slowly over the years, but when I changed my diet and ramped up my mileage, the weight just flew off, and everyone in my family started to notice,” LaJaunie. “Not only was I lighter, but I was happier. My mindset was different, and I felt better about myself. My family has not all lost the weight I have but they have all lost weight. Between my grandpa (Bam Bam), my mom, my sister, my brother, my wife, me and my mother-in-law, as a family, we have lost about 700 pounds.”
SERVING AS AN INSPIRATION
But he has also been an inspiration to others who don’t know him personally.
“I have people in Australia and the United Kingdom and Portugal and Thailand, people all over the world who contact me regularly,” LaJaunie said. “I don’t mind sharing tips and advice. The answer is really simple. It’s easy. We need to eat more plants, and we need to run more. The more we can adapt to that, the healthier we will be. The hard part is in doing it and getting past the social pressures that keep us fat in this country. Helping people with that is my passion now. It has given me a whole new lease on life.”
Thibodaux said LaJaunie’s willingness to help others in their weight-loss endeavors comes as no surprise.
“Josh has always had a heart of gold no matter his physical condition or where he was in his life,” Thibodaux said. “Anything you have ever needed, he was always a phone call away. He’s the first guy there when you are calling for help. Now with this love of running, he has a passion for his transformation and for helping others with their transformations. Josh had people who inspired him and now he is inspiring people.”
And as for winning the cover competition?
“It’s surreal, and as far as I’m concerned, I have already won,” LaJaunie said. “They are flying me to New York and putting me up in a hotel in midtown Manhattan (for a photo shoot). I don’t need to win. I am happy to be associated with the people in that final group. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”