Behind the Bun: The 2017 Nathan’s Famous Hotdog Eating Contest

By Mary Bowers

 

Mirrors.

When I was three, they were the source of entertainment as I would contort my face into silly expressions and press it against the smooth surface. I am still not certain if my mother resented the game because of the sticky smudges I would leave behind or if she looked forward to the hours of laughter my reflection gave to me. Either way, I probably owe her a palette of Windex.

By the age of thirteen, the tall hallway mirror had transformed itself into one from a Coney Island Fun House. My reflection was a giant lollipop an enormous head atop a body that had not yet caught up to it in size.

From eighteen onward, the silvery surface has remained an ever-present portal. Each morning, my bleary-eyed face greets myself as I make the transition from a dream-world of tiny dinosaurs, candy flowers, and singing sunshine into the familiar world of meetings, utility bills, and traffic.

But there is one day every year when the portal remains open and all are welcomed to stay inside the world beyond the looking glass.

On July 4th, some stand in front of the mirror and see the reflection of a champion. Others are greeted by the image of inevitable defeat. As for me, I am greeted by the reflection of a hotdog eating warrior. With her she carries the wisdom and experience of battles past. She is the picture of heartbreaking losses, of thrilling victories, and of contests yet to be. She is patient. She is strong. Too often I forget that she is me.

The portal between worlds is understated. Aside from the summer heat that interrupts the cold concrete floor and walls, it is far from opulent. Yet the sound of the crowd at the end of the tunnel is like the rhythm of a heartbeat, beckoning me home once more.

I step forward and a warrior emerges into the sunlight.

Those who have gathered near the battlefield are perfect reflections of the champions for who they have come to cheer. From all corners of the universe they come to witness the human projections of their own hopes, fears, and dreams as they step up to the plate.

If weary warriors can stand at the table and emerge victorious, can the ordinary citizen conquer battles back home? If the strong can break through barriers, can hope be born anew? If one man can eat 70 hotdogs in ten minutes, what else is possible.

I ascend the stairs as the crowd roars with excitement. Flashes of thought and emotion pulse through my body. I pause to give one last wave and blow a kiss to the multitude before taking my place upon the battlefield. Thoughts of hope and encouragement float upon the breeze in my direction. I am heartened as I step toward the table.

The scent of hotdogs fills the air.

“Five… Four…. Three…Two….ONE!” The battle has begun.

I contort my face into silly expressions, as I stuff hotdogs into a body that has thankfully caught up to a lollipop head. A maze of thoughts and emotions stand as mirrors, repeated across the intersection of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. Many have been lost in such mazes, without inner-compass or guide to show them the way to the other side. Reflections of my own of self-doubt, limiting beliefs, and fears that fortune could suddenly reverse direction repeat themselves once, twice, then 40,000 times across the landscape. The audience and I are twins, born of the same magic.

My body screams at me, begging me to stop. The struggle is hard. The crowd gasps. They cannot bear to watch, but cannot force themselves to look away. Hope seems dim.

But today is Independence Day. The warrior will not be defeated.

With one, final and desperate motion, I reach for another hotdog, stuff it into my mouth as I press my face into the maze of doubt… and laugh.

The battle is over.

The maze of mirrors shatters into glittering fragments of isolated fears, doubts, and limitations. In its place stands a single, beautiful reflection. In it, I see the warrior woman standing victoriously alongside her co-champions. I see extraordinary citizens with smiling faces. I see a man with 72 hotdogs under his belt. I see the mirror image of broken barriers, the perfect picture of hope reborn. Together, we stand as living proof of “the impossible”.

I could stay in the Land of Mirrors forever. I feel loved. I am happy. I could easily live on a diet of hotdogs, cotton candy, and amusement park rides.

But, whispers from the Land of the Ordinary call to me from the other side of the mirror. I think of those who are left behind. Fear and doubt consume them. They do not believe in magic there.

And the choice is clear.

On July 5th, my bleary-eyed face greeted myself in the bathroom mirror as I rejoined the familiar world of meetings, utility bills, and traffic. But instead of a reflection of a weary face, I was greeted with one final wave and a kiss from my friends in the Land of Mirrors beyond.

I am heartened, as I prepare to step forward into the day and the warrior emerges into the sunlight once again.

 

Friends and fans are invited to discover yummy recipes, play fun new games, and get a behind the scenes glimpse into Mary’s world at EatBeMary.com. Join the social media conversation @EatBeMary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the latest updates in foodie fashion.

 

Be sure to check out our series detailing the world of competitive eating; Masters of Mastication! We’d like to thank Mary for all her help in the past few months, and look forward to seeing what’s next in her amazing cotton candy filled world.