Home : News : Features : Display

Andrews civilian eats her way to world records

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- Competitive eating is the name of the game to the Burger King manager at Andrews, who ranks third among speed eaters worldwide. 

Sonya Thomas, who manages Burger King, holds 29 competitive eating world records since she began competing in the United States and abroad three years ago. No other female speed eater comes close to such an achievement than the Andrews civilian, who stands 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs just 100 pounds. 

Ms. Thomas said each of her world records consists of a different type of food. 

"I like soft foods best because they go down easier, such as oysters, clams and other seafood, pasta and eggs," said Ms. Thomas, who lives in Alexandria, Va. 

Speed eaters have their own nicknames. Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan, the reigning world champion of competitive eating, is known as "The Tsunami." Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., refers to himself as "Jaws," due to the fact he comes close or defeats Mr. Kobayashi in many competitive eating contests. Ms. Thomas said she calls herself "The Black Widow" because she eats more food faster than her male counterparts in eating competitions. 

The Black Widow is one of three speed eaters who will be featured in a documentary, which Big Fish Entertainment in Washington, D.C., is producing for National Geographic. The documentary covers every aspect of competitive eating, from its popularity to how it affects the human body. 

A production crew from Big Fish Entertainment videotaped Ms. Thomas working at Burger King in early October. They also videotaped her speed eating at their Washington office later that day. 

"The Science of Speed Eaters" is the working title of the documentary, which will be aired on the National Geographic Channel early next year, said Sarah Kelsey, associate producer of the project. 

Ms. Kelsey said the documentary will also include speed eaters Tim "Eater X" Janus of New York City and Loren "Bubba" Yarbrough of Newnan, Ga. 

"We chose these three eaters to follow because of their unique backgrounds, records and speed eating," she said. "Each represents a different aspect of the people that compete in speed eating." 

Ms. Thomas was an obvious choice for the documentary because of her competitive spirit and her ability to out eat men several times her weight, said Ms. Kelsey. Mr. Janus is considered a top competitor in speed eating and holds several records. Mr. Yarbrough is an up-and-coming competitor. 

Ms. Kelsey said speed eating and overeating aren't the same thing. Overeating is a behavior, in which many people sometimes indulge. Speed eating is a competition, which occurs over a specific period of time, usually six to 12 minutes. 

"Speed eaters, or competitive eaters, do not necessarily overeat as part of their regular eating behavior," Ms. Kelsey said. "For instance, Sonya Thomas weighs somewhere around 100 pounds. She definitely does not overeat on a regular basis, but she does compete regularly in speed eating contests." 

People who overeat might have one or two more portions of food, she said. The best speed eaters can often eat 10 to 12 pounds of food very quickly. 

Ms. Kelsey said she is learning some surprising things about the science of speed eating as she works with Doug DePriest, the documentary's producer and a partner in Big Fish Entertainment. 

"It is amazing how much people can eat in a short period of time," she said. "It's just you and the food. You have no teammates, no equipment. You have to have a serious amount of discipline and drive to win any event in competitive eating." 

Ms. Thomas considers competitive eating a sport. Competitive eating combines mental toughness, hand speed, jaw strength, stomach capacity, speed of swallowing and sheer desire, she said. A person asserts the physical and mental abilities necessary to overcome the challenges lying before them. 

Her ability to out eat her closest competitor, usually a male, doesn't surprise Ms. Thomas. "I'm blessed with a very high metabolism," she said. 

Gaining weight at competitive eating contests doesn't worry her, said Ms. Thomas. She keeps physically fit by exercising on a regular basis. 

Ms. Thomas said she has a very large stomach capacity, which is a plus for her. She prefers eating contests lasting 12 to 15 minutes. 

The Andrews civilian also prefers not to practice prior to entering a competitive eating contest. 

"Sometimes, however, I will practice with the contest food for one to two minutes -- no more," she said. "I prepare mentally by just thinking about strategy to eat a given food quickly." 

Her latest achievement was consuming 9.75 pounds of fried okra in 10 minutes at the 2006 Goldenpalace.net Fried Okra-Eating World Championship at the Oklahoma State Fair Sept. 16. Like the female black spider, it is her desire to eliminate the males. Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, 21, of Chicago, Ill., placed second after eating 9.5 pounds of fried okra in the same amount time. Eight Oklahomans also competed, but they were no match for The Black Widow. 

Ms. Thomas said she would like to be the top speed eater worldwide, but she can accept being where she is, given the fierce competition. 

Big Fish Entertainment's documentary should give viewers an idea of what speed eating is all about and why people like her compete in speed eating contests, said Ms. Thomas. 

"Competitive eaters are some of the finest, nicest, down-to-earth people one would ever want to meet," she said. "I'm proud to be associated with them."