Buns ‘n’ All (Or, that time I won a hot dog eating contest by default) (Or, I’m going to Coney Island, bitches!)

by Val Bromann  :::  12-30-2013  :::  Comments (2)

Eight minutes had already passed and the meat sweats were kicking it. My fingers were sticky with strawberry lemonade and grease. Crumbs of pink soggy bread rolled down my cheek. A near empty paper plate in front of me held just a few more bites of the fifth bun.

In the week before, friends of mine, professional eaters, had sent me tips: separate the hot dog from the bun, snap it in half and eat the two halves together, dunk the bun in a liquid with a taste you like.

While I tried following that advice, I knew my capacity, my stamina, was nothing compared to the men who surrounded me. I was sharing a table with Aaron Osthoff, Nathan Biller, Ronnie Hartman: all highly accomplished eaters.

My only advantage was that I was a woman, the only woman who showed up that day.

I’d won the contest before it even began.

It was my tradition, every year on the Fourth of July, to sit in front of the flat screen to watch the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest broadcast live from Coney Island. While most Americans would spend their holiday attending parades or barbecues, I would sit at my television mesmerized by these strange contenders stuffing their stomachs with more hot dogs than anyone logically should.

It was on the third of July, after Chicago’s annual fireworks display, six years ago, that I turned to my best friend Nadia and said, “I want to be a part of that.”

I didn’t mean I wanted to be an eater, per se. While I eat, a lot, too much, I never dreamed I could hold my own against any of those competitors I saw on TV. But I was intrigued. I wanted to see them in person. I wanted to know more about them, about this sport.

Two months later, Nadia and I went to our first contest, a jalapeño eating competition in Chicago, where I was a total embarrassing fan girl and was too shy to even approach anyone afterwards. A month later we drove to Tennessee for a hamburger eating contest, we witnessed Joey Chestnut consume over 100 Krystals, we finally got the courage to say hello.

The next July 4, we were standing at Surf and Stillwell, home of the flagship Nathan’s Famous, in New York.

Sports have never really been my thing: you don’t usually find me watching baseball or football or basketball by my own free will. Competitive eating, for the first time, gave me a sport, a competition, stats to know, athletes to root for. Photography wise, it was so interesting to me, to capture these eaters mid-bite, particles of debris spewed into the air. It was strangely beautiful.

And then there were the people. After I got the courage to finally start talking to the eaters, they were always so friendly, invited me to after parties, waved from the stages when they saw me in the crowd. And I met other fans who shared my weird enthusiasm, like Sadie and Jaimie and Carrie, who I ended up later visiting in North Carolina, who I ended up sharing a room with the third year I returned to Coney Island.

From 2007 until 2011 I saw 21 professional eating contests, traveling all over the country to watch my favorite eaters eat ice cream or calamari or hot wings.

In 2011, at a cupcake contest in Iowa, I took to the stage for the first time to compete. It was a life list item, one of those things I just had to try after all those years. I came in dead last, but I didn’t care. I never expected to do well. I had tried. I had gotten it out of system, could return to my rightful place in the front of the crowd.

I never needed to compete again.

But, that summer, that July 4, something changed.

I returned to New York, that year, to watch one last contest before I boarded a one-way flight to Europe.

That year, for the first time ever, the hot dog eating contest was split into two divisions: one for men, one for women. Joey Chestnut won with 62 hot dogs, Sonya Thomas won with 40 and, for the first time, there was the slightest possibility that I could make it up on that stage some time in the future.

It would never have been possible before: there are so many good eaters that I never would have had the chance to fill one of the ten or fifteen spots available. But with a contest reserved only for female eaters?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some strong female eaters. Amazing female eaters. Out of the current top 50 ranked eaters, eight of them are women, four of those are in the top ten. However, while I am no where near as good as any of them, eight doesn’t fill a table.

I had a shot.

A couple of years passed and each July Fourth I was out of the country. I still watched the contest, streamed online from my computer and even challenged some friends in Chiang Mai to our own hot dog eating contest (in which I was brutally slaughtered by an Australian). Each year though, I wished I was back in New York. Being there had become my new tradition.

As I prepared for 2014, thinking of where my travels will take me, I decided I had to be there again. But, this time, I didn’t want to just be standing in the crowd, I wanted to be up on stage.

To eat at Coney Island you have to win a qualifier. Traditionally these ten-minute cntests are held in about ten different cities throughout May and June. The top male and female eater from each contest gets a spot at the big table.

I had planned to announce my grand plan on New Years: I would return to the US in the summer from wherever in the world I am, and I would compete in a qualifier, hopefully earning my spot at Coney Island.

But then I saw a tweet from Major League Eating announcing that the first qualifier of the year would be held in December. It would be held a week after I returned home from England. If I could get to that contest I would have a chance to secure my spot early, not have to rearrange my schedule come summer. I needed to get in.

I signed up and prayed that they still had space and would accept me. And, after I received my confirmation, I worried that I wouldn’t eat enough to win. I had planned on competing in June. I was to have months ahead of me to train, to prepare. Now I had just a week.

I figured, though, that no matter how I did it would be OK. If I won, if I beat every other woman, I would secure my spot. If I didn’t win I would at least know where I stand, would know how much I’d have to prepare to win in June.

When I arrived at the Bally’s Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, where my qualifier was taking place, I received the good news: I was the only female eating that day.

My fellow competitors joked that I could just take my time, put some ketchup on one dog, and savor it.

But I wanted to try.

As Sam, the MC, called me up on stage he joked about how I’ve been traveling the world for “four years”, that it was hard for me because I was no longer used to eating American food. And as I started to eat, and continued through the contest, he kept announcing that I was in the lead for the women, that I had a shot to take it all.

In the first minute, I’d already finished one hot dog. Everyone else was already a few in, but, for me, one a minute would be OK. That pace, though, would be impossible to keep up.

As eight minutes hit the clock I knew I could push myself to eat more than I had. But, at that point, I also knew I wouldn’t get to ten, and, as every part of my wonder trembled, I worried that I’d puke. If I threw up, had a “reversal of fortune,” it would be an automatic disqualification. And the last thing I wanted was to be disqualified against myself.

In those last two minutes I finished struggled to finish more, picking at the lemonade-soaked bun, licking grease from my lips, chewing, swallowing.

My final total was 5.75 hot dogs, a far-cry from Aaron Osthoff’s winning total of 27.

But, while it may have been the worst total of the day, while it probably will end up being the lowest qualifying total of the season, I, technically, won. Sure, it was only a win by technicality, by default. But, I did it, I secured my spot at Coney Island for next year’s July Fourth hot dog eating competition.

While I’m surely going to come in dead last come July 4, I’ll be standing up on stage in front of a crowd of thousands of people gathered together on Independence Day, next to some remarkable women, skilled eaters, at my 25th contest.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest qualifier 2014 in Tunica, Mississippi.

 

I need your help!

I TOTALLY NEED A COOL COMPETITIVE EATING NICKNAME!!! Everyone in competitive eating has a nickname:

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut.

Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.

Val “???” Bromann????

What should my competitive eating nickname be? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

 

P.S. Don’t miss any news about my contest! Sign up for my new monthly newsletter for updates!

2 comments
Add Comment

  1. 12/30/2013 at 9:48 am

    Val says:


    Some nickname suggestions I’ve had so far:
    Val “ociraptor” Bromann
    Val “Sausage Eater”/”Sausage Destroyer”/Sausage swallower” Bromann (that one was courtesy of Jaime)

     


  2. 12/30/2013 at 12:11 pm

    CMM says:


    Val “The Vacuum” Broman or Val “The Impaler” (I don’t know why that would work, but I liked the sound of it, as in “Vlad the Impaler”– “Val the Inhaler”?) . . . Anyway, sorry for the lousy input but good luck.

     

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