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Weight loss blog of church group's 'Biggest Loser' champ goes viral

By Charles Young

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After spending almost six months eating healthy and exercising, JB Ward sank his teeth into a bite of fluffy, golden-brown waffle.

"Good God," Ward exclaimed. "This waffle is great!"

It was the first bread he had eaten since his men's Bible study group from River Ridge Church in Charleston started a Biggest Loser competition in January.

Ward savored every bite; he earned it. After starting at 230 pounds, he has lost 25 percent of his total body weight, slimming down to a lean 172.5 pounds.

He and the other men in the challenge sat around the breakfast table at First Watch on Summers Street in downtown Charleston for their final weigh-in before the winner was crowned.

Although participant and official group statistician Monty Barnett was still crunching the numbers across the table, Ward was the clear front-runner for the coveted "BLAAH" (Biggest Loser Award and Honorarium) trophy.

Along with the tiny bronze trophy, Ward also was about win a check for $170, the result of a $10-per-man pool; a free ticket to a Steelers/Browns game this fall; and a free dinner out with his wife, Bethany.

But, as he explained, the endeavor quickly became about much more than winning a competition.  

To chronicle his journey from fat to fit, Ward started a website, the aptly titled "Big Boy Running" blog. He posted humorous workout videos, weekly weigh-in results and posts capturing his thoughts and reflections along the way.

With some social media help from his cousin, A.J. Ellis, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the site went viral unexpectedly and received thousands of hits from across the country.

The online support, and the momentum that he picked up once the pounds really started coming off, are what really tipped the scales and helped Ward surpass his original goal of 40 pounds.

 "It was nothing groundbreaking or secret, just the basics, everything they to tell you do," Ward said. "I've worked out six days a week and I've eaten really well."

Ward also received support and encouragement from his two sponsors, Robert's Running and Walking Shop and the iFiTT24 gym. To get him started, the two Charleston businesses provided free equipment, personal training sessions and nutrition planning.

 Although Ward swears his dramatic weight loss was the product of hard work and not gimmicks, he said he did come across one fitness fad that he now swears by: dance walking.

The exercise is exactly what it sounds like.

Dance walkers pick a soundtrack of their choice and dance their way down the street, improvising moves as they go.

"It's for people who don't want to run but walking is too slow and boring," he said. "So instead you literally just go around town and you dance."

On the blog is a video that captures one of the dance-walking excursions. A dance team from a local high school dances with Ward along the streets of downtown Charleston.

Ward and his back-up dancers even enlisted others to join, getting passersby to shuffle down sidewalks to Salt-n-Peppa's "Push It" and The Champs' "Tequila." 

In another video, Ward and his cohorts invade Charleston Town Center, dancing through Starbucks to "Cotton Eyed Joe" by Renex.    

 On tally day last week, just as the waitress was finishing distributing the plates of eggs, waffles and crepes along the table, Barrett finished plugging everyone's data into a spreadsheet and officially declared Ward the winner.

It was a clear victory. He beat the next closest contestant, Brad Sims, by 6 percent.

"For a while I really didn't care if I won, but then I put a lot of work in," Ward said after receiving the rewards of his efforts.

"I was just so shocked, every time I weighed in, the weight just kept coming off and coming off. Then I realized I could really do this."

Ward said he's glad to have won and excited to be healthy. He plans to maintain his newfound lifestyle, saying his next goal is the 15-mile Charleston Distance Run in late August. He might even try a marathon some day.

But for now, as he wrote on his blog, he's just happy his wife can love him not for who he is, but for what he looks like.

Contact writer Charles Young at or 304-348-1796.

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