The Back Road: Greatest athlete of all time

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Andrew Malekoff

When Joey Chestnut shattered his own world record to win his 14th Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest this past July 4th at Maimonides Park, a minor league baseball stadium in Brooklyn, he was declared “the greatest athlete of all time,” after consuming an astounding 76 hot dogs in a mere 10 minutes.

Chestnut’s gastronomical feats are incredible, however placing him alongside Olympian royalty such as Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Nadia Comăneci, Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis is a stretch.

Full disclosure: as a teenager and young adult, I dabbled at bouts of prodigious eating. It was a neanderthal ‘guy thing’, all those spur-of-the-moment binges at fast food and all-U-can-eat joints.

Typical fare included prodigious buckets of KFC, scads of White Castle sliders and limitless Howard Johnson’s fried clams.

I was unaware of any formal competitive eating contests back then or I likely would have entered. The closest I came to competitive eating was during a cross-country trip to California in the early 1970s.

Traveling through Texas on interstate 40, there were billboards for miles each way, advertising The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. The advertisement featured a 72-ounce steak dinner challenge. If you consumed their four-and-a-half pound boneless steak, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and roll in less than an hour, the meal was on the house. I couldn’t resist.

I was seated at a round wooden table along with my childhood friend Stu; a stranger named Ed Russell who claimed to be a professional wrestler that once took on National Wrestling Alliance heavyweight champion Dory Funk Jr.; Steve, a Vietnam veteran wearing a blue watch cap who announced, “I think I got a hollow leg,” indicating that despite his slender build he had extra room to complete the steak dinner; and two young guys that I took to be hippie hitch-hikers. Among the six of us, only Steve, Ed and I took a stab at the 72-ounce steak dinner.

I was hardly confident, especially after getting a close-up look at the mammoth steak that was folded in half on my plate, but I had to give it a try. Fast forward: I finished the steak in 25 minutes and then all the trimmings. A waitress informed me that I was just a few minutes off the all-time record. Had I known that in advance I might have accelerated the pace.

Afterward, aside from a free meal, I was handed a certificate acknowledging my accomplishment and was told that my name would be recorded in a book along with all the others who completed the meal.

As for Steve, he made a beeline for the bathroom and suffered early onset “reversal of fortune,” which is competitive eating parlance for throwing up. Good ol’ boy, honest Ed Russell was caught cheating by slipping chunks of steak down his pants.

For a full description of the challenge rules visit: www.bigtexan.com

Although I had always thought that ingesting large amounts of food in limited amounts of time was exclusive to guys, in 2015 I was put to shame by 120-pound Molly Schuyler who ate three 72-ounce steak dinners in 20 minutes, the first one in 4 minutes, 18 seconds.

I would like to go on record to say that, as a gentleman, I used a knife and fork. Molly assumed a more primitive (and productive) stance and tore the steak apart with no utensils, only her hands and teeth.

If you care to, you can see Molly break the record at the Big Texan on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7GkAQsgbCo

After her mind-blowing achievement, Molly told the Amarillo Globe-News that she wants to come back to attempt a fourth steak but five would be too much for anyone to handle. “Four is totally doable, but five is almost unattainable,” she said.

Step aside Olympians, for Molly Schuyler is the greatest athlete of all time.

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