SHADY HILLS — Hailey Snyder wasn't impressed, even when the fat pants came out.
"I told her he might know the Jonas Brothers," said her dad, Gordon Snyder, as he and his wife, Tracey, and 6-year-old Hailey ate sandwiches with Jared "the Subway Guy" Fogle.
The Zephyrhills family was among about 30 who showed up Tuesday evening at a picnic for the American Heart Association's Heart Heroes, a group for kids who have conquered cardiovascular diseases.
Hailey was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a condition that results in a narrowed or obstructed pulmonary valve and enlarged heart. When she was 3 months old, she had open-heart surgery that left a scar that stretches from the bottom of her neck to right above her belly button.
"She's not ashamed of her scar," said her mother. Hailey, whose favorite subjects are art and physical education, leads a fairly normal life but sometimes tires during physical activity.
"She says she has to sit down and relax," her mother said.
The program gives Hailey and the other kids a chance to be kids, with fun activities throughout the year. Those age 7 and up get to attend Camp Boggy Creek, a medically safe camp staffed with volunteer doctors and nurses.
Fogle, 32, became Subway's pitchman a decade ago after losing 245 pounds by eating only off the sandwich shop's menu. The Indianapolis resident was in town to promote the Tampa Bay Start! Heart Walk set for Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. During the week, he took some time to picnic with the kids at the Rotary Concourse Pavilion and tell them what he calls "my story."
As rain from Tropical Depression Ida pelted the pavilion's metal roof, Fogle took his old 60-inch waist jeans out of a plastic bag and unfurled them before his young audience.
He told them how his obesity problem had its roots in a childhood of junk food and video games, which eventually caused him to balloon to 425 pounds by the time he was in college.
"Can you imagine how hard that must have been on my heart?"
He created his own diet of Subway sandwiches without cheese or oils and shrank to 190 pounds in less than a year. Restaurant executives found out about his success and created a national ad campaign.
Now he works full time promoting the sandwich chain and other health-related causes.
During dinner, he said he realizes how fortunate he was as a child to have been born without a heart condition. The extra weight would surely have been deadly.
"I made a lot of poor decisions," he told the kids.
After dinner, he participated in an ice breaker game with the children called "Either Or" in which players line up based on preferences in various categories.
"Cheese pizza or veggie pizza?" asked Pepper Adair, director of the Heart Heroes program in Florida. "FSU or Florida Gator?"
Afterward, they posed for photos with Jared and piled on in a group hug.
Jeffrey Bridges, 9, of Spring Hill, said he'd never heard of Jared the Subway Guy before Tuesday.
Fogle took the lack of name recognition among the younger set in stride. After all, these kids weren't even born when he appeared in his first commercial.
"I was at an event with SpongeBob," he said. "They went crazy when they brought out SpongeBob."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.