Sports

Down 400 pounds, now he’s helping others shed weight

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— 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.

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Photo by Crystal Wylie

ASSOICATED PRESS

TOP: Neil Burns, right, spots Rick "Woo" Brewer at First Step Fitness in Richmond. Ky. In May 2010, Burns was a 6-foot-4-inch, 680-pound backhoe operator. He lost 400 pounds in a 31-month period, and now helps others make their own miracle weight-loss stories. 

 LEFT: Neil Burns spots Rick "Woo" Brewer, who has lost 39 pounds since he started training with Burns.

Photo by Crystal Wylie

TOP: Neil Burns, right, spots Rick “Woo” Brewer at First Step Fitness in Richmond. Ky. In May 2010, Burns was a 6-foot-4-inch, 680-pound backhoe operator. He lost 400 pounds in a 31-month period, and now helps others make their own miracle weight-loss stories. LEFT: Neil Burns spots Rick “Woo” Brewer, who has lost 39 pounds since he started training with Burns.

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.

\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.”

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.”

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