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Man meets 400-pound weight loss goal; now helping others

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POSTED January 6, 2013 6:04 p.m.

RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) — When Neil “Bruiser” Burns, 45, posted “400lbs LOST!” on his Facebook page Dec. 8, more than 500 people “liked” his status. The post received numerous congratulations from friends and family, many of whom have been following his story from the beginning.

Dec. 19, he received a call from one of the producers of “The Dr. Oz Show” (on ABC), who told him they wanted to feature his “miracle weight-loss story” as a segment on one of the shows.

Burns sent in pictures and information about his fitness plan, including the parts about cleansing and eating nuts, which were ideas Burns got from watching Dr. Oz.

He is waiting on word about when the episode will air.

In May 2010, Burns was a 6-foot-4-inch, 680-pound backhoe operator who made a decision that would change his life and impact many others in the years to follow.

By December 2012, that former Madison Central High School football player who could barely walk to the bathroom and back is now helping others make their own miracle weight-loss stories.

For around six weeks, Burns has been working as a personal trainer at First Step Fitness in Richmond. Ranging from ages 9 to 56, Burns trains 11 individuals who have each been lovingly given a nickname.

“Woo,” ‘’Taz,” ‘’Crusher,” ‘’Sim Bot,” ‘’Lil’ D,” and “Chocolate Thunder,” they like to call each other.

Then there is little “Bam Bam,” a 230-pound 9-year-old who has been training with Burns for almost two weeks.

The boy’s teacher had contacted Burns, who quickly discovered Bam Bam “does the best Popeye and Yogi Bear impersonations,” he said.

After the boy’s first training, he couldn’t stop talking about it at school the next day, his teacher reported.

Another incredible weight loss story is unfolding right here in Richmond with Theresa “Taz” Anderson, a 48-year-old who has been mostly confined to her wheelchair for the past three years.

On Dec. 17, Burns uploaded a video of Anderson walking 10 feet across the gym without the two canes she had been using.

When she sat down after crossing the room the first time, a smile spread across her face and she gave Burns the double thumbs-up.

After around the fourth trip they all just hugged and cried, said Maureen Graham, Burns’ girlfriend.

The first time Anderson came to the gym, Graham said, they had to push her wheelchair in because she could not do it herself.

Anderson had contacted Burns about a year ago, shortly after the first Register story published. She avoided him time and again until one day “something just clicked, and I wanted to go ahead and start doing something,” she said.

At her heaviest, Anderson weighed almost 400 pounds. She suffers from multiple weight-related conditions and takes four types of medication.

In four weeks, she has lost 45 pounds and 17 inches, she said, and has not drunk a soda in two months. The doctor reported her blood pressure is falling in line, and Anderson hopes to one day kick all the medication.

Losing weight had always been a New Year’s resolution for Anderson, but she never stuck to it, she said. “But now when people ask me about my New Year’s resolution, I tell them ‘I’m already on it.’”

Burns has been her “crutch to lean on,” she said. “I’m climbing that mountain right now; I want to get to the top. When I’m with Neil, I know I’m going to have a good workout. He gives you that lift.”

Rick “Woo” Brewer, 44, powered through extra reps recently during the Register interview and photo shoot, but he’s used to working out in “beast mode” by now.

“Beast mode” is a state-of-mind — an encouragement Burns shouted nearby while Brewer squeezed out one last shoulder shrug.

“Rick’s a powerhouse. He’s going to be way stronger than me; it kind of makes me jealous,” said Burns, joking about his childhood friend and former football teammate.

As Burns’ first client, Brewer is 39 pounds lighter than his starting weight of 385.2 pounds a few weeks ago.

Brewer had been a “solid” first-grader at 100 pounds, and he wasn’t necessarily overweight in high school, but he really started putting it on when he suffered from depression after a separation.

He had been in contact with Burns throughout his weight loss journey, but continued to eat junk food and feel worse physically. One day, he saw Burns working out.

“I don’t even think he saw me — but I made up my mind that I have to do something,” Brewer said. “I figured Neil would know where I was coming from.”

After his first workout session with Burns, Brewer could barely move his arms, he said. “But you know, it felt good. Instead of feeling down, I started feeling happy about what I was doing.”

One thing that separates his friend from other trainers, he said, is that “he truly cares about every single thing about you. He cares about you physically, emotionally — he wants to see results in you.”

A few months before Burns began his weight-loss journey, he took his son to Gattitown in Lexington, an entertainment center with games and a pizza buffet.

While sitting in a chair, a little girl stood next to him and her dad started snapping photos.

“What are you doing?” Burns asked.

“I want a picture of my daughter with the biggest person we’ve ever seen,” the dad replied.

“I don’t want my picture taken,” Burns said angrily.

The dad snapped two more photos and took off with his daughter without another word.

“They knew I couldn’t catch them,” he recalled. “That kind of stuff sticks with you.”

Burns is not trying to “play the victim,” because it was nobody’s fault but his, he said. “But stuff like that is what drives me now.”

The Register first reported on Burns’ weight loss in November 2011 when he lost a staggering 331 pounds in 18 months the “old-fashioned way.” No pills. No surgery.

A follow-up story came in June 2012 when Burns was just 30 pounds short of his 400-pound weight-loss goal.

By that time, Burns had already made appearances on both local and national television (“Good Morning America”). As a living testament, he spoke about healthy lifestyles to children and adults from Florida to Ohio.

Burns still insists on a “cheat day,” when he gets to eat what he wants.

His method has drawn criticism from those who think “cheat days” are counterproductive. But, Burns is in a position to throw up his hands and say: “Look at me now, down 400 pounds later.”

He maintains the key to sticking to weight loss is to “get your emotions involved.”

“Your body thrives on your emotions,” he said. “When you get your head, your heart and your soul involved, your body will follow.”

Even after all his success, Burns still sees a 680-pound man in the mirror.

He constantly reminds himself of a friend who once lost 400 pounds and gained 350 back.

“That could be me,” he said. “I still have ‘eating demons.’ I still crave fast food. Maybe this is my way of not letting me go back to 680 pounds.”

It was a surreal moment when Burns realized he had lost the 400th pound because “it was such a long battle,” he said.

He is not sure when he will ever get over that 680-pound image of himself, he said. But, he could be having the “worst day ever” until he sees “Taz” or “Woo” or “Chocolate Thunder” or “Bam Bam.”

“When I start training people, all my worries go away,” Burns said. Each of his trainees gets a key to First Step Fitness so they can work out any time.

He teaches dance-exercise “Beast mode aerobics” (6:30 p.m., Mondays and Thursday, starting in January). At the end of each class he picks a winner who takes home a gold-toned wrestling belt along with “beast mode champion” bragging rights.

He has a “secret” Facebook page for his trainees where “a lot of fun-loving, trash-talking goes on,” Burns said.

On his personal page, his more than 2,000 friends hold him accountable for his weight loss every day.

The 522 members in his “Living a Healthy Lifestyle” Facebook group engage in daily conversations, sharing fitness ideas and accomplishments.

So when Burns announced he had met his weight loss in early December, well-wishers left hundreds of congratulatory posts on his page.

A friend named Lewis wrote: “Beast mode is the real deal! I’m a believer!”

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