Steve Vaught--a 350-pound self-described "Forrest Lump" who's walking across the country to shed weight--has the same such following, only his real-life fame has been fueled by the Internet.
Tens of thousands of people are regularly checking in on 39-year-old Vaught's progress through his busy Web site, TheFatManWalking.com. Vaught's wife, April, who has been penning his online journal, alludes to a Web audience of about 100,000, and that was before Vaught was featured on the "Today" show earlier this month.
Vaught left his hometown outside San Diego on April 10 in an attempt to walk to New York City to "lose weight and regain my life." While he embarked on the journey for personal reasons, he hoped his story might "serve to encourage others to take their lives back--to get up and do something about it today," according to a Web site posting written before he left.
As of Friday, Vaught was only near Flagstaff, Ariz., where it's monsoon season. He's fallen way behind his goal of traveling about 20 miles a day, which would have put him in Missouri by now.
But he's already accomplishing his goals. He's lost about 50 pounds (he was 400 pounds) and has been the source of great inspiration. That's been made evident by the countless postings and e-mails to thefatmanwalking.com--so many that the site was overwhelmed and had to be taken down for a few days last week while it was put on its own server. A new Web services provider has since redesigned and is hosting the site.
"For the record, I have chills running though my body and am blinking away tears as I write this," wrote an Akron, Ohio, blogger named Joshua, who called Vaught a hero. "I hope I can complete my own journey of weight loss and do that same. I salute you Steve. I bow to you. I honor you...Rock on."
Even the more skeptical bloggers, like Erin Slick, said she's intrigued despite not always being so keen on extreme weight loss plans. "Will he lose the weight? More importantly, will he keep it off?...I have to give the guy credit for originality. Go fat man go!"
Father of two Vaught says he went from lanky teenager to muscular Marine to overweight pre-middle-ager. He could not be reached for an interview, but his Web site tells of the darkness that for him came with being overweight and putting his life at risk.
"Being fat is physically and emotionally painful. It diminishes the quality of the good things in life and it will ultimately bring about an early demise," he wrote, adding that diets didn't work in the long term. "If I had a drug or alcohol addiction I would go to rehab. Well, what I have in mind is rehab for the fat guy...I don't want to miss out on birthdays, graduation, marriages and grandkids because I chose not to take my life back."
Vaught started gaining his weight about 15 years ago, when he was driving too fast against the setting sun and struck and killed an elderly couple crossing the street, he told The Washington Post.
Vaught's Web journal offers both grueling and enlightening accounts of his adventures on the road, from the loss of three toenails due to the weight on his feet, to being sick with dehydration, to the kindness of perfect strangers who have come to his rescue.
For more information, visit Vaught's Web site, but be careful not to type in www.fatmanwalking.com without the "the." That will get you to a blog penned by Dave Drass, a mortgage analyst outside Philadelphia who since 2002 has offered online insights and information about backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.
Since Vaught began his journey, Drass has been getting between 20 and 50 misaddressed e-mails a week from people offering Vaught a place to stay, kudos and inspiring tales. Drass, who has bannered Vaught's contact information across the top of his site, said he enjoys reading the e-mails before passing them on to Vaught.
"People just really want to help," said Drass, who recently got an e-mail from the Oprah Winfrey Show inquiring about how to get in touch with Vaught. "I'm going to ride this guy's coattails to fame."