Growing up, my father always wanted me to be an athlete. “Quit being a pussy musician and learn combat skills,” he used to say. The recorder was my instrument of choice, and if he caught me playing it, I got “the belt”. It’s not like I didn’t try to be good at sports. I was just a doughy kid who didn’t have the heart of a champion. That is, until the day I discovered the glorious, gluttonous spectacle they call competitive eating. Finally, a sport where fatties finish first! Well, that is what I assumed anyway. In small, local tournaments, I held my own. The sheer size of my stomach was enough to beat the lightweights in Latham, NY. However, once I made it to the national level, I discovered that genetics of a different sort gave skinny kids the edge.
The day I met Takeru Kobayashi was a humbling, humiliating experience that brought back the childhood trauma beat into my memory by my father’s belt. I must have had 120 lbs on this kid, yet he was eating circles around me! Granted, this was my first time on the big stage, so the butterflies in my stomach were understandable. Still, even with the butterflies, I felt I should have been able to cram more hot dogs down there. As I gasped for air and did my best to hold back the vomit, Kobayashi inhaled dog after dog without even breaking a sweat. It turns out that the elasticity of one’s stomach is more important than its starting size. I was a chubby kid with a big mouth and a big appetite, but my stomach had a static capacity. I went home that day with my head low, not just from crippling indigestion, but from the realization that I had failed at the only sport I ever actually wanted to be good at.
However, something inside me kept me from hanging up the chompers for good. Perhaps it was the bit of pride I had garnered from my early success in the minor leagues. Perhaps it was simply the love of hot dogs. Maybe I was stimulated by the idea of using my brains to overcome Kobayashi’s brawn. Wrestling great Jesse “The Body” Ventura once said: “win if you have to, lose if you must, but always cheat.” In my desperate mind, cheating was just as good as any legitimate strategy, and that is exactly what I did. I can’t go into details without risking the loss of my first prize ribbon, but let’s just say it was a combination of a dual layer of jumbo-sized Depends and laxatives. The Big K didn’t know what hit him. I got to 300 dogs before he passed the 250 mark, and I never slowed down from there. When all was said and done, I beat him 500- 398, and left the stadium still feeling hungry for dessert. I’m sure my dad would have been proud had I not already murdered him in a fit of “laxative rage” during my training. Still, I like to imagine that he was watching me from hell that day, with a smile on his face, even as Satan crammed cobras into his rectum.