What makes the summer Olympics so relatable is the sense that with proper training, dedication, & diet, we too could become a gold medalist. We feel like we could be the best swimmer or diver or speed-walker or marksman.
I get the same feeling every July 4th watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. When I look at Joey Chestnut, or any other competitor, I don’t see any God-given talent: he doesn’t have to run fast or jump high. He just has to eat.
And as the title character in Antwone Fisher said, “I could eat”.
And not only can I eat, I love to eat. I enjoy and appreciate food – it is more than sustenance to me.
But eating for the joy of it and eating competitively are two different things.
I know, because a few years ago I got my shot to go “All in” with a large cheese pizza. But for me, there was no championship belt, prize money, or live tv crew. There were no fancy introductions, special costumes, or announcers.
My shot at the world of competitive eating wasn’t the main attraction; it was only another cheap crowd pleaser at a minor league baseball game. And most people weren’t even paying attention; they were trying to convince the sun to set so the main act could begin: fireworks. Apparently it takes 15-20 minutes to get fireworks ready, and there is no better space filler than people stuffing their faces with Papa Johns.
And I was only selected when I asked the head of entertainment a question about a totally different topic. She kept ignoring my questions, never even looking up from her clipboard. When she was fully exasperated, she glanced up. And what she saw turned her mourning into dancing. Just to make sure, she took a second glance. Looked me up and down, smiled, and told me I was contest #5.
Contestant #5 in tonight’s eating challenge. And that I should meet her after the game to go on the field and participate.
They didn’t even know my name – never asked. I was just one of six guys selected from the crowd. Four of the guys were part of a bachelor party and were too libated to know better. One was a high school athlete with a daily caloric intake similar to Michael Phelps. And there was me.
They gave each of us a leftover Papa John’s pizza from the concession stand and a small cup of water. We were to have 10 minutes to eat the entire pizza. First one finishes, wins. Crust must be eaten to count.
The countdown begins and away we go. The high school kid jumps out to an early lead, followed by the most drunk of the soon to be groomsmen. I am somewhere in the middle.
After the first few minutes, the high school kid begins to fade as do two members of the bachelor party. They ate the crust first and it killed their buzz. They began to realize what they were doing. I am holding steady, tied for second with the third member of the bachelor party. We both trail the fourth member of the bachelor party, who has somehow snuck a beer into the competition.
At the halfway point, it’s down to the beer drinkin’ groomsmen and myself. He has the lead, three friends prodding him on, and a continual buzz. It’s not looking good for me.
Entering the fourth quarter, I’m still trailing. My jaw is wearing out and it hurts to chew. I look over and this guy is still going strong. And he’s washing it down with more beer.
I give it my all, but in the end, I am no match for beer and a bachelor party. Neither one of us finishes the pizza, but he ate more than I did. I make a comment about beer, crust, and rules to the event coordinator, but she doesn’t care. The natives want fireworks and she doesn’t have the stomach to watch anyone else eat more food, so she brushes me off and declares him the winner. He smiles and shouts his dominance. His friends feed him another beer and secretly take his photo.
I head back to the crowd and find my party. They pat me on the back and give me well-wishes. The pats hurt. So do the metal seats. The pain of eating begins to set in and it forces me to lay across the bleachers.
I vow to never eat again.
Then I think of all the foods I could never eat again. That won’t work.
I vow to never eat pizza again. Then I think of the wood fire grilled pizzas and Mellow Mushroom and dessert pizza. That won’t work.
I vow to never eat too much again. Then I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas and buffets and homemade desserts. That won’t work.
I vow to never compete in an eating contest again. Then I think of Man vs Food and how awesome some of the challenges would be. That won’t work.
I vow to never compete in an eating contest against a drunk bachelor party again.
Now that will work.