"When I look back, I just think, I can't believe that was even me," Syracuse resident Ronnie Brower tells PEOPLE
Want to embark on a major weight-loss journey? Consider adding a few Taylor Swift hits to your workout playlist.
After all, it worked for Swift superfan Ronnie Brower, 30, who celebrated the remarkable milestone of reaching 250 lbs. in early May after a 425-lb. weight loss, and credited the pop star’s music with helping him push forward on even his lowest days. To toast his transformation, he’s headed to the 1989 concert in Cleveland on June 3.
With the help of his friend and former high school history teacher Joe Bufano, 37, Brower posted a YouTube video May 12 detailing his slim-down from 675 lbs. in the hopes of catching the singer’s attention to make the show extra special for him. Within just eight days, the 8-minute video collected more than 1.5 million views and even sparked a Twitter hashtag #RonnieWeightLoss to help spread the word.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Brower tells PEOPLE. “Even if I don’t get the chance to meet Taylor Swift, I feel like I can really inspire people who are the same boat that I was in with my story. It feels incredible.”
Appropriately backed by the songstress’s jams “Change” and “Shake It Off,” the video shows before-and-after photos of Brower, shots of his progress and clips from workouts with his two trainers.
He describes his former life compared to his current self as “night and day.”
“When I look back, I can’t believe that was even me,” says Brower, 6’1″. “Now I’m always out and doing things. I’m never home – and that is just crazy compared to before.”
For years Brower struggled with drugs, alcohol and morbid obesity, which made him lose his job and “unable to leave his apartment,” his pal Bufano explains.
That all changed three years ago, when Bufano saw his former student’s posts on Facebook. He interpreted the bad habits and frightening weight gain as a “cry for help.”
Not long after, Brower was introduced to trainers Nick and Jill (from Mission Fitness), who agreed to help him start exercising.
Under their guidance – and buoyed by Swift’s inspirational lyrics and upbeat songs – Brower found the impetus to get off the couch and make a major lifestyle change. It took him two years to lose the weight.
Bufano describes the effect Swift had on his friend: “The only thing that would give him the energy, or something to look forward to, during his deepest, darkest times were these upbeat songs. It kept him buying into life.”
RELATED VIDEO: Taylor Swift Fan Loses 425 Lbs. Listening to Her Music
In a short two weeks, the friends will drive the five hours to Cleveland from upstate New York to see Brower’s musical idol in concert.
“I think I would be too star struck if I met her, even though I have every single one of her songs and albums,” says Brower. “I’d probably keep it simple and tell her, ‘Thank you for inspiring me through your music.’ ”
Even though Brower and Bufano aren’t getting their hopes too high, they consider the video a victory in itself.
“It takes a real person to put himself out there and be genuine like he is. He’s really opened himself up and he’s being honest, and I think that’s a risk for him to do,” says Bufano of Brower.
“When you meet him, you can’t help but just see that he’s so determined and incredible, you can’t help but love the guy. He’s a big teddy bear,” Bufano adds. “Well, he’s a small teddy bear now!”