She’s petite, she’s pretty, and no one on this planet, just by looking at her, would ever suspect that Sonya Thomas, 46, makes her living in part as a competitive eater.
That is, unless they’ve seen the 100-pound leader of “The Four Horsemen of the Esophagus” in action at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island on the Fourth of July. Under a sweltering sun last year, Thomas consumed 36 and ¾ hot dogs in 10 minutes – winning $10,000 in the women’s competition and snagging her third straight title in Nathan’s famous publicity-hogging contest, held every Independence Day since the early 1970s.
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“I love Sonya. She’s an awesome eater. She pushes her body to the limit every time,” said another competitive eater last year. “She’s the Ayn Rand of the salivary gland,” added a broadcaster oddly.
This July 4, Thomas is going for her fourth straight title, and if the past is any guide, she’ll take swigs of water and bounce from foot to foot as she eats – helping to nudge down all those hot dogs and buns.
“I was born to be a competitive eater,” she enthused in an email on Thursday. “Not only is eating my hobby – I am blessed with a natural ability to eat large quantities of food quickly.”
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A native of Alexandra, Virginia, Thomas averages one competitive eating contest a month. The rest of the time, she works full time as a store manager at a Burger King restaurant in the D.C. area. “It’s my managerial job that puts food on my table and helps me make ends meet,” she says on her website.
She sees a doctor regularly and has “never had to take prescription medication for cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., in my entire life.” Her list of competitive eating awards currently numbers 40, though no one should count her out for more. She’s in excellent shape, she’s relatively young – and, after all, there are so many more dogs to eat.
“I eat a lot of very healthy foods each day – though slowly, for enjoyment – so I don’t need vitamins,” she said.
Hot dogs are not Thomas’s only cup of tea, however: In December 2012, she ate 15 extra-large hard-boiled eggs in one minute. In July 2010, she downed 53 Taco Bell soft tacos in 12 minutes. In April 2008 she nibbled 32 ½ ears of sweet corn in 12 minutes. (Need we go on?)
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Thomas does aerobic exercise for nearly two hours a day, five days a week, to stay in shape. It takes her body about 8 to 12 hours to recover from an eating contest, and “by the next day, or later that same day, I’m usually good to go.” Does she ever purge after a match? “Absolutely not! I love my food, and I need what I eat.” She says her stomach has “been trained to stretch quite a bit” over the years and “can handle up to 19 pounds of food and liquid overall, within 10 minutes.”
“Stomach capacity, jaw strength and hand speed” – these are the most important physical assets for great competitive eaters, she says. She rarely trains before a contest – although she did back in 2003, when she first became competitive. Her goal overall? To be the best competitive eater in the world and to “remain very competitive in this sport for many more years.”
Update: Sonya Thomas was upset this morning by fourth-ranked Miki Sudo, who ate 34 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Thomas placed second with 27 and 3/4 hot dogs.
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