Early Morning Workouts Changing Leaders and Politics in Mississippi

Mississippi state legislators are trimming their own fat during this year’s legislative session, and it’s a bipartisan effort to shed a title the state’s held for six years and counting: “Fattest in the Nation.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 34 percent of  Mississippi's population is obese.

These statesmen aren’t holding back: 5 a.m. workouts with rope ladders, cone drills, sprints, weights and medicine balls. This isn’t football season; it’s the 12-week Mississippi State Legislative Session and the Paul Lacoste Sports Fit 4 Change Challenge.

Two hundred participants, ranging from 12-72 years old, are divided into five teams competing to lose the most weight. The teams: Team House, Team Senate, Team Barbour (staff members of Gov. Haley Barbour), Team State (state employees) and Team Mississippi (local citizens).

After three weeks of workouts, the 5 teams have already lost 1,485 pounds.

“We’re doing it, because we want to, not because we have to,” said Rep. Steve Holland, who lost 23 pounds during last year's challenge. “We want to lead by example and change ourselves and in turn change our state.”

Rep. John Hines, winner of last year's challenge, lost 78 pounds during the 12-week workouts. “I was just big,” said Hines. “And so to lose the weight, it said a lot to people, if I could do it, they could do it.” He took the program home and continued the workouts with his friends and neighbors.

Legislators have also noticed changes in their political battles at the capitol during the Legislative Session since the Challenge started.

“It was a miraculous transformation: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for all of us. I mean I even got to the point where I was liking Republicans again,” Holland, a Democrat, said.

Rep. Toby Barker, the youngest member of the state Congress, noticed passing off the state budget the past two years was significantly smoother than years past.

“When you’re struggling in the trenches every day with this, that definitely translates over to the capitol,” Barker said. “There’s a new level of respect for people, which we always should’ve had, but it definitely civilizes the discourse a bit.”

Now in its second-year, the Fit 4 Change Challenge is a dream come true for the legislators’ coach, former professional football player Paul Lacoste. Lacoste, a Mississippi native, became a personal trainer after his pro career to help fix the problem of obesity he saw in his home state and across the country.

“If we can start here in Mississippi, where the problem is No. 1, and we’ve proven ourselves here, there’s no doubt we can take this anywhere in the country and help that state lead by example as well,” Lacoste said.

Other states are taking notice of Lacoste’s program with the legislators. Lacoste cites Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee amongst others as a few that have already contacted him about doing similar programs for their own legislative bodies.

His ultimate goal though: taking his program to the United States Congress and help them to lead by example as well.

“Wouldn’t it be remarkable to see Congress come together as a team, Republicans, Democrats, whites, blacks, it doesn’t matter. All of us come together to make the best decisions for our country,” said Lacoste.