Danny Bourgeois is convinced there’s a healthier Louisiana out there, lurking under our deep-fried, crunchy exterior.
“With this sedentary lifestyle, where sitting has become the new smoking, we’ve all put on a little weight,” said Bourgeois, marketing director and one of the co-founders of the Louisiana Marathon festival, which takes over Baton Rouge’s streets and public spaces this weekend. “We’ve challenged ourselves in Louisiana. We’re one of the most unhealthy states in the country. We want to improve that.”
Through the events of this weekend’s Louisiana Marathon festival, he and the rest of the event’s organizers are determined to help us rediscover our leaner selves, one sneakered step at a time.
He’s convinced it’s who we’ve been as Louisianans long before the remote control and drive-thru window.
“Before A/C, before fast food, before high fructose corn syrup was put in everything, we were really healthy,” he said. “We dredged the rivers and built the levees. We were active outside. This was probably one of the healthiest states in the country until probably the 1950s.
“Then when we started marketing in the 1980s that this is a great state to come and have a ton of fun in, we probably lost sight of the fact that a lot of our history and culture is rooted in more than eating and drinking.”
To reach their ends, Bourgeois and the Louisiana Marathon folks have taken something of a velvet-gloved approach.
There will be food along with the running. And there will be music. And there will be drinking. Heck, the medals folks receive for completing the races (there are full, half-and quarter-marathons, a 5K and a kids race) double as bottle openers.
But in a way, that’s the true message: There’s fun in being fit. It doesn’t have to be attached to a face of pain.
“We’re passionate about the Louisiana lifestyle,” Bourgeois said. “But our message is run, dance, laugh, for that reason. When we start seeing the kids today aren’t going to live as long as we will because we’re so sedentary and because of the industrial food model, we want to be one of those events that challenges that. We want to make people say that they’re going to put something active into their day.”
Bourgeois threw down such a challenge a year ago to Baton Rouge Parents magazine Senior Editor Rene Ripley when they met at the annual Louisiana Marathon kickoff event at the Capital House Hilton.
“I came in here overweight,” Ripley said. “(Bourgeois) said, ‘You can walk. I got my mother-in-law to walk.’ I said, ‘I can’t even walk because of my knees.’ ”
Bourgeois wouldn’t take Ripley being stuck in neutral for an answer. He got her to commit to walking five minutes a day. That led to more minutes, then to jogging, then to work with a personal trainer and a stationary bike she rides while watching TV and cutting soft drinks out of her diet.
When she returned to the Hilton on Tuesday, Ripley brought a photo of herself from a year ago, testament to the fact that she has lost a remarkable 40 pounds.
“I won’t say I’m a ‘skinny mini’ now, but everything I did then was about covering up,” she said.
“When you take my picture now, I want to do this,” she said, posing with her hand on her hip.
Ripley admitted she isn’t running in one of this weekend’s events, though they’ve done fine without her participation. Bourgeois said the Louisiana Marathon has enjoyed 30 percent growth year over year, making the goal of 10,000 total participants — and then the goal of 10,000 participants for both the Saturday and Sunday races — within reach. As of earlier this week, there were entries from 47 states and foreign countries such as Costa Rica, Denmark and South Africa.
Of course, it’s not just about numbers. It’s about promoting an active lifestyle. A movement movement, if you will, in a state where most of us (this writer included) have been inert for far too long.
“We know if more people run and get a good run in before they go to a parade or a tailgate or a festival, their endorphins are kicking in and they’re pretty pumped up,” Bourgeois said. “They’re going to crave and eat something, have something to drink, but you’re not going to want to binge eat or hang out and chow down. We start to see people’s lives change that way we know we’ve kind of taken over.
“People who make running part of their lifestyle aren’t trying to run away from something; they’re trying to run to a better lifestyle.”
A lifestyle with bottle-opening medals, which definitely has a certain appeal.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.