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Nathan’s hot dog eating qualifier comes to the Cape on Saturday

By Staff | Apr 11, 2019

A slice of Americana comes to Cape Coral this Saturday.

Fourteen brave — and hungry — souls will compete for a spot on the hallowed Coney Island stage to take part in Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on the 4th of July to compete for the Mustard Belt, via a qualifying event at the brand new Nathan’s location in the Cape.

“The launch of the Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest circuit means that we are on our way toward the most exciting day of the year: July 4,” said Phil McCann, senior director of Marketing of Nathan’s Famous in a statement. “We are seeking new talent in Cape Coral to represent our nation on the most patriotic day of the year.”

Contestants will have 10 minutes to devour as many hot dogs and buns as they can.

“The Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest is a holiday celebration that is recognized across the globe,” said Major League Eating Chair George Shea in a release. “There is no greater honor on July 4 than competing against the greatest eaters in the world on the big stage in Coney Island.”

The event is sanctioned by Major League Eating and, according to legend, has taken part on Coney Island since 1916; Nathan’s inaugural year. The top male and female qualifiers will earn a spot at the grand event.

One competitor who has years of experience under her belt is Mary Bowers.

Bowers will be looking to lead the field this Saturday in Cape Coral as she vies for a chair on Independence Day.

Bowers has appeared six times in the southwest Brooklyn neighborhood on the corner of Suf and Stillwell Avenues to put down as many hot dogs as she can in front of thousands of spectators and millions across the globe watching on ESPN.

“The first year, I was surprised I was even there at all,” Bowers said of her inaugural Coney Island appearance.

In 2012, the 5-foot-3, petite-figured Bowers became the first-ever women’s wild card competitor in the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest by having the highest number of hot dogs eaten by a competitor who did not win a qualifying round.

Her personal best is 12 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and she is currently ranked No. 49 in MLE overall.

How did she get started in the world of competitive eating?

“Well, I figured I have to eat every day anyways,” she joked.

In her first competition in 2011, she was thrown into the deep end, being surrounded by veterans of the game in what she thought was a smaller hot dog eating event -turns out it was the West Coast Hot Dog Eating Championship in Orange County, California.

She performed well, and stood out as the only woman competitor. She was signed to MLE six months later.

“Competitive eating is one of the most interactive sports out there,” she said. “The crowd is so close to the table. In no other sport can you get that close.”

Her advice for those attending on Saturday?

“Only the brave should be in the first row. It can be a ‘splash zone’ of sorts,” she said.

Bowers takes what she learns from the world of competitive eating, and brings it into her every day life, she said.

“The mentality of competitive eating helps in other aspects of life. Strength, endurance, adaptability — all of these life lessons apply,” said Bowers.

She is a fashonista, designer, blogger, model and more — all while competing with some of the best eaters in the world.

“Whatever I do on stage seems to resinate with the females in the crowd,” she said. “The world of competitive eating has really opened doors in lots of other areas.

“I enjoy speaking with young girls and women about body image. I’m proud to be a part of the first generation of women in the sport. It is really a privilege.”

Bowers said she has experienced the full spectrum of comments from spectators when it comes to her “look,” as she may not fit the image that comes to mind when one pictures a competitive eater.

“The majority is encouraging and positive,” she said.

They key for Bowers to get in “the zone” comes down to finding her “happy place” as she takes on whatever challenge may be on the plate in front of her.

“The sport is 90 percent mental. It’s mind over matter. Your body is screaming stop, but you keep going. Obviously you do have to know your limit,” Bowers said.

Her favorite food? Sweets.

“I love them,” she said. “I don’t eat them a lot in my day-to-day life. I get my fill all at once.”

One of her favorite memories in the sport was when her mother — unknowingly — was in attendance for a burrito eating event Bowers competed in.

Her family told a white lie about where they were going, and her mother’s jaw-dropped face was captured by family when her daughter was announced, which made for a good laugh.

The defending champions for the 4th of July contest are world record holder Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo.

Chestnut broke his own record last year by downing 74 hot dogs. Sudo devoured an impressive 37 of her own. The female record holder is Sonya Thomas, who consumed 45 hot dogs in 2012.

Cape residents can come watch Bowers and the rest of the field compete at 1 p.m. at the Nathan’s Famous at 1897 Del Prado Boulevard South.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj