As of Thursday, Aug. 11, 2010, I hereby retire from the sport of competitive eating.
It was a short and unfulfilling career, unfortunately, though my waistline probably appreciates that I went 0-2 in just one summer of competition.
However, while I failed miserably in my attempt to eat four pounds of cheeseburgers in one hour last month, I landed somewhere in the middle of the pack in Thursday's cream puff eating contest at the Wisconsin State Fair.
I didn't know what to expect, really, when I sat down at a long table with 17 of my competitors, mostly TV and radio people, as well the Wisconsin Honey Queen, Alice in Dairyland and the Fairest of the Fairs. It was smoking hot by the time the 11:45 a.m. contest began, and looking out at the stands of people, I did get a little nervous. Honestly, it wasn't just the humidity that had me drenched in sweat.
Master Baker Dave Schmidt, introduced as "Puff Daddy," told us the rules. We would be presented with a box of three, one-pound cream puffs. We could use our hands to open and hold the box, but after that, we could only use our mouths to shovel in the puffs. The first one to finish would win.
I'll admit, I didn't have any strategy going into this, so when Schmidt said go, I just ripped open the box and dove in, face first. I didn't time it, but the five-or-so-minute long exercise was oddly neither nauseating or all that disgusting. Sure, I had cream all over my face, but the rest of my clothes stayed relatively clean.
Mind you, I don't see myself as a huge cream puff fan. I enjoy them in moderation, but I don't really crave them. So, as the minutes passed by, I methodically gobbled off the three tops, lapped up and sucked out the creamy middles, and popped my head up occasionally for air.
I had no sense who was winning, but in the nanoseconds I spent scouring the competition, some were a bit ahead of me, some were behind. The crowd was laughing and snapping pictures. I just took a deep breath and went back for more.
With my faces just millimeters away from the food, it actually looked like I was getting close to finishing, though when the contest was called, I realized that I still had about 20 percent to go before I was done.
I certainly didn't win, but I don't think I lost, either.
The winner was Curtis McSchmurtis (is that his real name??) from 97.3 Radio Now (WRNW). Honestly, I was more focused on wiping off my face from the gross combination of sweat and cream puff than to shake the hands of any winner. I didn't mean to be a poor sport, really.
During the competition, my friend Jen Lada from FOX6 sat to my left, and I think she ate a bit more than I did. But she's a triathlete, so she knows a thing or two about competition under stress.
"It's all in good fun," said Lada, after we all had a chance to cool down and change. "I've had some people say that a female shouldn't participate in a contest like this for one reason or another, but I really enjoy it. It's competitive, sure, but the lure is really just being invited to participate."
I guess I'd do it again, but Lada was a bit more enthusiastic than me.
"When else are you going to get to do something like this?" she asked. "It's such an honored tradition here at the Fair. Years from now, we'll tell the stories and show the pictures to remind our kids (and ourselves) that we didn't take ourselves too seriously back then."
"At some point in life everyone should have to eat a cream puff as fast as they can in 90-degree weather -- with no hands," said WMYX DJ Elizabeth Kay. "It's an honor to get that goey in front of so many people! Even though I place dead last every year, it's a great time and I like to tell myself it's not how much you eat, it's how messy you get when you eat it that counts!"
Oddly, after the contest ended, I was still a little hungry -- but certainly not for anything sweet. I waddled over to the sobe noodles stand and ate a slightly healthier lunch than my appetizer of sugar, milk and eggs. I can report that the only side effect has been a crash after a sugar high.
Lada agreed. "Post-puff, I'm feeling much better this year than last. The five pounder in '09 was really obscene, and I felt ill for a good 24 hours after. This year's three-pack was actually reasonably-sized and much more enjoyable. I'll keep coming as long as they'll have me. It's a fun and unique experience!"
Yeah, me too, I suppose. So maybe I should hold off my competitive eating retirement press conference for a while. Let's just say my career is on hold.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.