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Buff Jared steps out at Utah Heart Walk

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If you've been anywhere around a TV, a newspaper, Oprah, a hoagie-happy dieter or a certain sandwich shop for the past 3 1/2 years, you've certainly heard of Jared Fogle. Best known as "Jared The Subway Guy," he's the college kid who amazingly ate his way out of 245 pounds and right into pop-culture phenom status as the fast-food chain's masticating mascot and fad-diet founder.

The dieting celebrity — who used to wear pants so massive you could've wrapped 10 six-inch-long sandwiches around his waist — was in town this weekend to help promote the annual Heart Walk.

To answer the pressing question you may have wondered about the much-ballyhooed reformer of his 425-pound frame and the sandwich and weight-loss worlds:

No, he has not yet been contacted about duking it out with Richard Simmons in a Fox-TV celebrity boxing match.

OK, to answer the other questions you may have:

Yes, he gets all of his sub grub for free and he still eats there a couple of times a week.

"I'm not quite like Happy Gilmore yet where I get the free-Subway-for-life card," he said, "but hopefully that will be coming."

And, no, Jared hasn't gained all of his weight back, either. He maintains around 190 — much to the chagrin of Subway's competitors, no doubt.

"I would love to be a fly on the boardroom of Blimpie's and McDonald's and these other places," he said, "and hear the evil things they probably say about me."

It couldn't be any worse than what's on some Internet sites devoted solely to ripping on him, his commercials and his former eating lifestyle and weight. He laughs it off, having dealt with worse things.

The American Heart Association certainly didn't have an evil word to say about Jared or Subway of Utah on Saturday. As he'll do at about 30 different heart walks this year, he presented the AHA with a check for more than $6,000. In all, Subway donated $60,000 to the event, which had about 2,000 participants and will raise more than $200,000 to help fight heart disease and strokes.

Jared participated in the downtown street march, but he did more talking than walking. He stayed busy gripping and grinning with inspired admirers who'd shake his hand, snap photos with him, ask for his story or congratulate him. Then there were those who simply stared, did double-takes and whispered while he whisked by.He joked that the constant attention he gets is similar to that of beautiful women, well, except that he doesn't get whistled at and (no offense) he's not a beautiful woman. Plenty of people still gawked, though.

In other words, Saturday was just another normal day for Jared.

"Pretty much on a daily basis I have people come up to me and say, 'Because of you, I lost 10 pounds. Because of you, my mom lost 25 pounds,' " he said. "Or, 'Hey, my dad wants to lose weight. Tell me how you did it.' "

He's even heard of a man from Tennessee who weighed 600 pounds and dropped half that on the Subway diet.

"The fact that it has helped so many people," he said, "is a very rewarding part of it."

Being able to hike up a flight of stairs without needing oxygen and not wearing shirts with more X's on them than a tic-tac-toe board is nice, too.

Becoming a pseudo-celeb has been a highlight as well. Having starred in commercials since early 2000, Jared is thrilled that it's his fame that's now wide-spread instead of his tummy and tush. He once was watching Friends with his wife when Brad Pitt made a guest appearance and bragged about losing weight thanks to Jared.

"We were floored," Jared said. "We flipped out."

So did all of his friends and family, who quickly filled his answering machine up with multiple messages.

By now, he might have had more publicity spots than subs. He's been the guest on numerous TV programs, been featured in Men's Health magazine, USA Today, etc., and been talked about on shows such as Austin Powers and South Park. And while the Fogle-Simmons boxing bout seems unlikely, MTV made him the special guest referee for a "Celebrity Death Match" between dueling dieters Fergie and Monica Lewinsky. At one point, he had to beat them both on the head with a salami sandwich. (He couldn't eat it, of course, since salami isn't one of the seven subs with six grams of fat or less.)

"It was hysterical," Jared said.

Speaking of the obesity epidemic this past week, Jay Leno joked that perhaps Jared didn't really lose all that weight, it's just that everybody else is getting fatter so he only seems thinner.

Jared thought that was hilarious, too, but he has size 60 pants, a souvenir XXXXXXL shirt and video of when he was more than twice the man he now is to prove his pilgrimage from pudginess was for real.

And, of course, a full-time gig as a sandwich spokesperson to boot.

"That was my life goal," he laughed. "That's what I majored in college in."

His emphasis: Subway 101.

E-mail: jody@desnews.com