Since the 4th of July, I have been able to spend time with friends and family, busy moving to an new apartment, but mostly catching up at my normal job. Yes, I have a normal job in construction management... The last three weeks of preparation for the 4th of July are exhausting and my performance at work went down. While my work quality was poor, I did become good at passing my work load to coworkers :) lol... Now I am working extra, fixing mistakes that I made many weeks ago. I am very lucky that my employers and coworkers are so understanding and supportive of my competitive eating, and without them I would not be able to do the crazy things I do.
This year's hot dog contest was great, and it is about time I share my honest opinions about the event... On July second we had the traditional weigh-in (Basically a media event and a chance for all the eaters to catch up with each other). Upon my arrival to the weigh-in, Kobayashi established the tone for the next few days. As soon as I saw the former champion I jubilantly said hello and held out my hand... For an awkward three seconds Kobayashi looked around, avoiding eye contact, and finally shook my hand after his translator said something (in Japanese)... It was a good thing I didn't try to give him a hug, he might have hit me ;) ... At the weigh in, Kobayashi and I had our customary stare down about an inch from each others face...it was the first time that neither of us smiled... and then the weigh in was over and the talking started (competitive eaters also talk a lot).. I was told that Kobayashi dyed a V (for victory) in the the back of his head, I replied that it looked like an L.
The rest of the day and the entire next day I spent with my friends and family, trying to keep my head straight and mentally prepare my body for the ridiculous abuse that would happen on the 4th... On July 3rd, Fox aired my performance on "Are U Smarter Than a 5th Grader" (apparently I am not). I couldn't watch the end of the show, seeing myself lose would have been too much negative energy.
The morning of the 4th, I woke up at 6:30 and went for a little walk in the city. (one of my competitive eating theories is that our bodies are used to digesting food when we sleep and it takes hours for the muscle around the stomach to fully relax after you wakeup.)
At nine in the morning all of the eaters met in the lobby and piled into the buses that take us to Coney Island. The bus ride from Manhattan to Coney Island takes about 40 minutes, but it seems to take hours. I always look at the bus ride as the point of no return, it is my last chance to reflect on all of the good practice contests I have had, and become of aware of all the variables that I am able and unable to control. Before I got off the bus a person asked me how many hot dogs I was going to eat. I knew my body was feeling good, and I told her high sixties. in my head I thought seventy-one.
Moments before the contest i called my mom, dad, and little brother Willy. (Willy is the person that got me involved in competitive eating, he also became the first trainer in competitive eating and I have NEVER lost a contest with him coaching/yelling at me. This year, Willy was not able to train me because he could not get leave from Coast Guard. I had never won the fourth of july contest without Willy, and my competitors knew it.) The conversation with Willy helped. Basically, it was a pep talk that sounded like a Kenny Powers tape, from Eastbound and Down.
When I went on stage, I remember telling myself to "Ignore all feelings and do what I know can do... No matter what". When The crowed counted down from ten, my arms started to shake, my heart pounded, and I just wanted to get it on!!
The first minute of the contest is the hardest and most important... I need to find my rhythm and determine the best way to eat the food. The buns this year had been sitting out a little bit, so they crumbled easily. The first bun broke in half as I violently picked it up. I tried to calm my hands down and treat the buns with more finesse, to avoid debris and potential penalties.. My first minute was good, I was downing my 12th dog at he the sixty second mark. By the end of the second minute I was finishing dog 22, and I could see I had a two dog lead on Kobayashi. ( Every year I tell myself that I will not look at Koby, but I do... I guess he is standing too close to ignore.) At about six minutes into the contest I started to get lazy, and I let my pace slow to the point where Koby was within one dog of me. I realized my lead was slipping and closed my eyes and power ate, only briefly opening my eyes when I had to pick up a dog or bun. By eight and half minutes I had a four dog lead, and I knew that Koby knew I was going to win.
When it was over, I had eaten 68 hotdogs while Kobayashi had eaten 64.5... Three victories down, only four more to go..
Looking back the competition, several things changed this year. Things that I did not want to change but they did and i used them to my advantage. This was the first time Kobayashi and I went into the contest with the primary goal of beating each other, at all cost. We held nothing back and did not exchange any words before or after the contest. I liked going into the contest not liking my main competitor, it made me work harder, focus better, and made me more willing to endure pain. The biggest hurdle for me this year was competing without my little brother in front of me. I used every connection I had, but I was unable to get him authorized leave from the Coast Guard. For years I used Willy as a safety net. He was responsible for me getting involved in competitive eating and I only felt comfortable training and competing with his help. This year I worked hard (diet and practice), stayed focused and used all my positive influences (friends, family, fans) to push myself safely to a new limit.