Mississippi state legislators are some of the biggest losers -- and they’re proud of it.
Some 200 lawmakers, state workers, and Mississippians lost a combined 3,043 pounds and 714 inches from their waistlines in a 12-week weight loss challenge that’s helping the state distance itself from a title it has held, until recently, for six consecutive years: fattest in the nation.
FoxNews.com followed several legislators as they took part in the second annual Paul Lacoste Sports Fit 4 Change Challenge, created by former professional football player and Mississippi native Paul Lacoste.
Participants endured 5 a.m. workouts, four days-a-week, for more than three months. Exercises included rope ladders, wind sprints, cone drills, medicine balls and pumping iron -- workouts you’d expect to see college athletes doing, not older and larger statesmen.
Rep. Steve Holland, 55, lost 12 pounds this year, after losing 23 pounds in last year’s challenge.
“Yeah, we like our food. And we like our couches. And we’ve got to stop a little of both,” Holland told FoxNews.com in January.
Holland says in 2008 his doctor told him: “Get fit or get ready to meet your maker.”
Not ready for the latter, he’s now running 5k and 10k races regularly, and finished the Fit 4 Change 5k finale on March 30 in a near-personal best time of 33 minutes.
“We’re happy, we feel great, we’re ready to conquer the world,” Holland yells with a smile and fist pump.
Rep. John Hines, 45, who won last year’s challenge after losing 74 pounds, lost an additional 32 pounds this year. After one early morning January workout, Hines, soaked in sweat, still breathing hard, explained how grueling the legislators’ workouts are.
“Here there’s no catching your wind. You move from station to station, you’re constantly active. So it’s a little more intense,” said Hines.
Almost three months later at the challenge’s finale 5k race around the state capitol, Hines says he’s sweating less after workouts these days.
“The workout got easier along the way cause we were getting in shape,” Hines says.
When we last saw 71-year-old Rep. Alyce Clarke three weeks into the challenge, her cane was on the ground while she worked out on an elliptical machine.
Clarke told us then that waking up at 4 or 4:30 a.m. wasn’t a problem because she had so much fun with the workouts. While many were running, jogging, and walking their way through the 5k finale, Clarke, cane in hand, pushed through one step at a time, crossing the finish line in just over an hour.
“It was determination. I was determined to not come in last. Last year I came in last, and I, I think I was two from the bottom this time.”
In just its second year, Holland says the Fit 4 Change Challenge is helping to lead the Magnolia State out of obesity.
“Little by little. We went from 50th to 49th yesterday in the United States of America in obesity. Now West Virginia is 50th; I think it’s because of Fit 4 Change.”
Lacoste says this is a huge step in the right direction, but that his home state is still far from where it can be. He is already gearing up for the next step in his plan to transform Mississippi.
“Next for Mississippi, we’re going to go Fit 4 Teaching. May, June, and July we’re going to challenge our state teachers … to join the legislators and fight obesity.”
Next year, Lacoste is looking forward to introducing the Fit 4 Change Challenge to legislators in the nearby states of Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas.