21 October 2004

100 Pounds of Trouble!



Food-Eating Star to Compete

Look Who's Coming: Sonya Thomas, Competitive Eater

Photo Courtesy of International Federation of Competitive Eating
By MATT EHLERS, Staff Writer
Think you have an appetite?

Sonya Thomas has put away 162 chicken wings in 12 minutes and slurped 36 dozen oysters in 10. At a contest in Mississippi, the woman they call "The Black Widow" downed 23 pork-barbecue sandwiches in less time than it takes most people to eat one.

Now she's bringing the show to Raleigh.

Thomas, one of the competitive-eating circuit's top stars, will be at the state fair on Wednesday for the world sweet potato casserole-eating championship. The person who can put away the most casserole -- the sweet potato is North Carolina's state vegetable -- will earn $3,000. The contest is sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, the governing body of the 10-minute eating extravaganza.

Originally from South Korea, Thomas has never eaten sweet potato casserole, but knows that it's topped off with marshmallows, one of her favorite foods. She has predicted victory.

At 5 feet 5 inches tall and about 100 pounds, Thomas doesn't fit the stereotype of a big eater. But she's always had a bigger than appetite than most, she says, and has trained her stomach to hold mass quantities.

Thomas, 37, spoke to us from her home in Alexandria, Va., where she manages a Burger King.

Q - How did you get your nickname?

A - A lot of people think that the only people in eating contests are big, heavy men. But I want to show them that a female can beat a male. The black widow has poison. She kills the male spider, right? So when I compete with all the men, I kill the men. (She's laughing here.)

Q - How do you train?

A - I don't want to practice a whole time -- 10 minutes, 12 minutes, because if you go that long you're going to get full. I like to enjoy my food. So I just work on speed. Like, how much can I eat in one minute or two minutes, then I multiply the time.

Q - Do you have a giant stomach in that little body?

A - Yes. Ten pounds, 14 pounds, I think I can handle that. A lot of people have to eat three meals a day. But since I got this job (at Burger King), I don't have time to eat. So my habit is only one meal a day. And when I'm eating, I drink a lot of Diet Coke -- no calories --so I can stretch my stomach.

Q - Which title are you most proud of?

A - I think the 65 hard-boiled eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

Q - Why is that?

A - Because you know what? I think a lot of people have trouble with eggs -- they can eat maybe two or three. You know the movie "Cool Hand Luke?" They gave him one hour to eat 50 eggs. But he got sick. And he's got a problem, right? But even the 65 hard-boiled eggs didn't make me sick.

Q - Do you ever get sick?

A - Only the cheesecake, when I ate 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes. The speed was good. But after I ate -- it was on an empty stomach, before contests I don't eat anything -- all that sweet went to my stomach. That made me sick.

Q - What advice do you have for people who want to get into competitive eating?

A - Train your stomach. Drink water, but not constantly. If you drink water all the time, you have to pee, and the stomach can't expand. So at one time -- drink one gallon, maybe two gallons of water and let it stand a little while, so your stomach can expand.... But it's not only the stomach, it's mental, too. You have to fight with yourself too. If you cannot, you cannot win. In that 10-minute time period, a lot of people eat fast. Then at about 6, 7 minutes, a lot of people get full. At that moment they hit the wall. If you cannot get over that moment, you cannot win.

Q - What do you do to get over the wall?

A - I try to burp, to get some air out. When you're full, and you burp, you're fine.

Staff writer Matt Ehlers can be reached at 829-4889 or mehlers@newsobserver.com.


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