Up close with a competitive eater

Lettuce.

Back in my entertainment reporting days, I somehow landed on the absolutely disgusting competitive-eating beat. Cincinnati had embraced the sport, and it seemed as though every other restaurant was offering a gut-busting challenge: obscene burritos, exploding gyros, pizzas bigger than coffee tables, submarine sandwiches you could float in.

Over time, I befriended the person who was gobbling up all the local eating crowns — Joe LaRue, a massive, surprisingly gentle dude in Kentucky who just so happens to love food. Joe’s a native New Yorker and a former rising star in the competitive eating circuit who got the boot for participating in non-Major League Eating-sanctioned events. (For all that sloppy hot dog eating, the Eater’s World is a tightly controlled one.) Joe was hurt by the dismissal, deeply. But he kept eating.

Which is how it came to be that one morning, I sat with Joe and his girlfriend as he attempted — and in a rare twist, failed — to eat the 3-pounds-ground-beef-6-fried-eggs-12-strips-bacon-12-slices-cheese burger in 30 minutes or less at Joe’s Diner in Over-the-Rhine. I wrote about it for Metromix and didn’t eat for a day. I was going through some old photos this morning, and I found my record of that day, and I thought you might like to see this.

Let us explore the emotions of the competitive eater on a day in which he does not win.

Joe. Burger. No biggie.

OK, kind of biggie.
Never mind. Hungry.
And thirsty!
And…regretting life choices.
Should have gone to med school.
Didn’t need those carbs, anyway.
Retiring from competitive eating. For, uh, the day.
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