Meet the Seattle-area entrants of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest | Seattle Times Sports


July 2 – Every June, Juan and Sarah Rodriguez are the couple who buy all the hot dogs on the shelves of their local grocery store.

The Seattle husband and wife will compete in this year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4, marking Juan’s 10th year competing and Sarah’s fifth. Preparation begins about a month in advance and includes many trips to their local Safeway and Fred Meyer to buy essentials.

On Tuesday, less than a week before this year’s contest at Coney Island, they bought all the buns at Fred Meyer in Ballard. Sarah memorized the prices: A 14-pack of Nathan’s hot dogs ranges between $10.99 and $11.99, and the buns are usually $1.79 on sale. With the two competing, it adds up.

“We have an overabundance of them at home right now,” Juan says, as he and Sarah sit in front of a platter of 20 hot dogs on Wednesday morning. When they are done, the two bicker over who has eaten the most.

The Seattle-based competitive eaters first met five years ago at the Nathan Contest. Juan, whose record is 33 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and Sarah, who was 24½ when she placed second last year, married in March 2021. Steven Hammond, from Kirkland , and Maryville native Katie Prettyman round out the Seattle-area contestants. at Coney Island.

“It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of competitive eating,” Hammond said.

Juan and Sarah, who shared a passion for competitive eating before they met, started chatting on Instagram ahead of the 2017 contest. In most years, contestants must win a playoff to be invited to Nathan’s contest in July . Sarah flew to Texas and qualified for her first Nathan event. They first hugged in New York and dated long distance, with Juan in Chicago and Sarah in Washington, before eventually moving together to Seattle.

They had hot dogs at their wedding — just for the pictures, though — and have a dachshund, err wiener dog, named Kujo.

Juan has known for some time that he is made to eat competitively. As a child, he raced his younger sister and younger brother to see who could finish his plate first. Juan has always won. One Easter Sunday, when he was 19 or 20, after he and his siblings and cousins ​​ate for an hour, Juan was the only one who didn’t vomit, he said.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got something here; like I could do this,'” Juan said. When “Man vs Food” aired on the Travel Channel in 2008, he began to look into Major League Eating. Juan started competing in 2012.

Juan, who is also a wrestling fan, said he wanted to come up with a cool nickname so fans could support him. He says it can’t just be record holder Joey Chestnut, who he’s friends with. Juan recalled growing up, his mother always repeating the phrase “if you eat one more bite, you’re going to explode” as he raced his siblings. The nickname Juan More Bite was born.

Nathan’s predicts around 35,000 fans will turn out for this year’s event, and Juan knows some of them will cheer — or laugh — at his nickname. Many fans are regulars every year, and they’ve come to recognize it.

Sarah’s journey into competitive eating started later, around the age of 25. A friend forwarded her a YouTube video of Sophia DeVita-Gutierrez eating lots of cinnamon rolls, and Sarah was impressed. But she also thought it was something she could do too. Friends joked that she had a “tapeworm” in her stomach because she could eat so much.

“It took me down the rabbit hole of food challenges, then contests, then Nathan,” Sarah said. “It’s pretty cool to see the progression of thinking that I’ll never be at this level to go beyond.”

Unlike Chestnut, whose primary job is competitive eating, Sarah works as a nutrition coach and Juan as a personal trainer. Their understanding of nutrition, calorie intake, and health and fitness helps them when they start training every June. Outside of competition and practice, neither of them touches hot dogs for the rest of the year, Juan said.

Competitive eating requires the same mindset as any athlete, Sarah said — you have to be mentally strong because of its unnatural nature. Much like a marathon runner or weightlifter, Sarah and Juan must push themselves to points of “extreme discomfort” to improve their public relations.

The first year they dated, Juan was watching from the Green Room when Sarah competed at Nathan’s, and he instantly knew she had done PR because she was “tilted” after she was done. Sarah has done PR every year she competed on July 4th.

“When people say they’re full, full is the smallest word to describe how you feel,” Sarah said. “You go beyond what’s full – it’s a total pain.”

Hot dogs make it even harder. They are high in fat and the buns are high in carbs. Juan said he can eat 18-20 pounds of fluids and food at his best, but that doesn’t equate to hot dogs.

“You feel sick and full even though you could probably physically hold 3 or 4 extra pounds in yourself, compared to your other workout. Hot dogs are very weird,” Sarah says.

In addition to the hot dog trials, Juan and Sarah spend about a month training in their own way. Juan increases his stomach capacity through “water training”, where he drinks as much as he can in 10 minutes. He drinks nearly two gallons several times a day as July 4 approaches, including as early as 4 a.m. as well as between the fitness classes he teaches.

It also focuses on jaw exercises and breathing exercises. One year, Coney Island was 94 degrees plus 100% humidity, Juan said, so he jokes about turning on the oven during practice, just in case.

“Like any athlete, you’re going to go back to the game tape and watch it, what went wrong, how can we improve on it,” he said.

Sarah prefers “eating stretches” where she eats giant salads, steamed vegetables and fruits with water and other liquids on them. She does this every day for 30 days, keeping a detailed diary by weighing how much she ate, and kicking off the workout up to twice a day towards the finish line.

This year, Sarah expects to finish comfortably in third place now that Miki Sudo, who holds the women’s record of 48.5 hot dogs, will be back.

On stage, Sarah and Juan won’t think about flavor. They appreciate good food, although some gourmet portions may be too small for them, Juan said.

The consumption of hot dogs is completely separate. During the contest, they will implement a strategy where they eat the sausage first and then dip the bread in the water. They crush the bun and use it as a sponge, because eating a dry bun means too much chewing. Juan even adds strawberry powder to his water because the sweet flavor helps him eat the buns faster.

Hammond, whose day job is as an engineer, worked on a different strategy. He hates hot dogs, but enters the competition because he understands Nathan’s is a big deal. Last year, in his first contest, he ate 27, five less than his personal best.

Hammond said he had plenty of room left in his stomach, but would have vomited if he ate any more (which results in an automatic disqualification). So this year he plans to eat a bunch of sausages first and then work on the buns after that. However, the number of buns he finishes will be his total.

“We’ll see how it goes, it’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward strategy,” he said.

Hammond started eating competitively due to his background as an athlete. He has done three Ironmans, 20-25 triathlons and 20-30 marathons. Because of this, he ate large amounts of food, which prompted him to sign up for a few Major League Eating competitions.

Running complements eating hot dogs quite well, Hammond says. On July 4, he plans to wake up at dawn and take an hour-long run through Central Park. Competitive eating is just a hobby for him, and he admits he’s not a very competitive person.

Still, running will help get him in the right frame of mind. “Make sure I’m nice and hungry,” he said with a smile.

The Whit’s End Bar (6510 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103) near Ballard will host a watch party beginning at 7:45 a.m. Monday.

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