Have you seen Demi Moore in GI Jane? Movies would lead us to believe that formerly demure Demi, buffed up and head shaved, could best Viggo Mortensen. As if One Crazy Summer's Cassandra Eldgridge could take Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. That is just Hollywood hoohah and doesn't happen in real life. Except I saw it happen in Okinawa, Japan on the military base from a 110-pound female competitive eater who beat all the Marines, Navy, and Air Force soldiers, and couple male pro-eaters to boot.
The history of the female gurgitator is a short one. From Japan, Takako Akasaka once ate 90 ostrich egg omelets. Known as "The Sweet Queen," in 2000 she decimated New York city pastry shops and ate a then-record 22 Nathan's hot dogs in 12 minutes at the 4th of July frankfest chowdown. Like female powerlifters giving way to fitness instructors, these days Japan is dominated by eaters like Gal Sone, who is known for her nail polish as much as her curry consumption. In America, where there is no title nine in competitive eating, Carlene LaFevre, a former aerobics instructor, would compete with the men, and even beat her husband to win the posole eating crown. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, a Burger King manager at Andrews Airforce Base, would become the first female phenom -- eating 47 dozen oysters in eight minutes, 49 soft tacos in nine, 65 hardboiled eggs in six minutes forty seconds (take that Cool Hand Luke), and consumed 10 percent of her body weight with 11 pounds of cheesecake in six minutes. When asked how she did it, Sonya would reply, "I just beat the men." She is still active and holds over 30 major league eating records.
However, 2014 has become year of the "I am Woman, Hear my Stomach Roar." Miki Sudo, who entered competitive eating after having a 12-pound bowl of Pho soup for lunch, defeated Sonya at the Nathan's contest this year to win her first pink Pepto Belt. In Chicago, I ate next to Miki in Kimchi and felt great about my 4.5 pounds, until I noticed that Miki had lapped me and quaffed nine pounds in the eight-minute contest. Also entering the fray is Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco -- her nickname perhaps due to the fact she often accidentally consumes the take-out containers that her voluminous food orders are packaged in. Michelle is a debris food specialist and won the Chicago Ribfest, stripping meat from bone in a show of manual-to-oral dexterity usually not seen in mammals. Michelle was in Okinawa for Navy Entertainment, eating in a pro-am with Navy sailor soldier Wommack. She was eating against pros Adrian "A Drain" Morgan and myself as well as our Marine and Air Force representatives. Her plate of 20 regulation Nathan's hot dogs sat cooling on the stage. Diamond Dave Keating, the MC became a human megaphone, screaming, "We've got the go-no go from Langley, I'll see ya when I see ya, see ya on the otherside, smoke 'em if you've got them, it's time to drink from the volcano, ride the dragon, light this candle, count down from ten..." and at one, like Cookie Monster's wife, Michelle Lesco inhaled 20 hot dogs and buns in five minutes. That is right, while the men were heading towards double digits, Michelle had finished everything on her plate and was putting mustard on one of Wommack's dogs and cheering him on. She evaporated those dogs as if the Okinawa base had provided one of it's top secret enzyme ray guns (I cannot confirm nor disconfirm the existence of the Digester 2000). Afterwards I conducted an exclusive interview with Michelle Lesco and to her credit, she did not belch once while answering.
1. How is the Navy Entertainment Tour going?
It's amazing, we've had a lot of fun eating with the troops and giving them some pointers on being the best competitive eaters they can be and using the strategies with varying success. We've seen what normal civilians never see and talking to the servicemen and women is the best part of the trip -- and I jumped into a waterfall at Senryuu Falls and that was pretty great.
2. Have you been overseas much? What is your impression of Japan?
This is my first trip overseas and I want to see everything because it is all brand new to me -- I love local sights and we have gone off base and toured temples, hiked, and ate a lot of food -- all weird stuff I bought at a grocery store and shared it at a community meal trying to figure out what it was. I had one piece of food that looked like a skin sample on a slide that did not taste good.
3. Between Sonya Thomas, Miki Sudo, and you there is a pro-eating female phenomenon going on in 2014. How did this happen?
A big part of it was when Nathan's made a separate womens' division and it gave Sudo and I a big opportunity to join MLE. We are a competitive group of girls, it's not that we feel disadvantaged or handicapped by our gender, we know we can beat the guys, and can go balls to the wall or I guess, ovaries to the wall, for lack of a better saying.
4. You are known as an altruistic eater and promote charities for folks to donate to at each event, with the reward of meeting you and talking pro-eating. You've raised thousands of dollars. How do you choose the charities and how do people donate in relation to your contests?
I choose charities that raise funds for issues I care about and try to tie it into the contest. We did a wing contest and donated to Wings of Karen, a fellow competitive eater's breast cancer charity started for his mother. It also has to be easy to donate online so I can track their contributions and personally thank them. Perhaps when I get back to the U.S. I can figure out a charity that benefits children of military members. I am a high school math teacher so anytime I can provide for tomorrow's youth, I do. I don't consider myself a role model, but try to make good choices because kids are impressible.
Last Labor Day, the kids and adults were mighty impressed when Miki, Michelle, and Sonya sweep the Buffalo Wing Festival chicken wing eating contest, beating all the men and causing a ripple in the poultry market worldwide.
Michelle Lesco would like to thank everyone involved in the Navy Entertainment Tour, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation staff on base, and most of all the men and women of the US Military.
Crazy Legs Conti has done 33 sit-ups in 2014 at www.crazylegsconti.com.