What was the highlight of your recent Fourth of July holiday weekend?
The fireworks at the Illinois Veterans Home? A family picnic at South Park? A Cardinals game at Busch Stadium?
Those were all excellent options, but did I hear someone say "watching the annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest" on ESPN? That is always one of the great highlights -- well, for me, anyway -- of the summer months.
Now before you dismiss the idea of seeing eight-time defending champion Joey "Jaws" Chestnut downing more than 60 wieners and buns in 10 minutes, consider the following when it comes to the world of competitive eating:
1. It's real: This isn't a one-day-a-year thing. Competitive eating has two major sanctioning bodies -- the International Federation of Competitive Eaters, also known as Major League Eating. The other is the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters (AICE). It's kind of like the American and National leagues of Major League Baseball.
One of the groups allows competitors to soak buns in water for easier downing. The other doesn't. It's kind of like using the designated hitter in one league and letting the pitcher bat in the other. Same concept, different rules.
2. It's about more than hot dogs: If something can be eaten, one or both of the governing bodies sanctions a competition. This is about more than devouring dogs once a year. From asparagus to Vienna sausages, a world title awaits an ambitious eater.
3. They actually train for this stuff: Surprisingly, most of the competitive eaters spend a lot of time in the gym as well as the cafeteria line.
Liz Neporent of ABC's "Good Morning America" reported that competitive eater Tim Janus, also known as Eater X, said he "only overeats in competition and exercises daily." Janus is 5-foot-10 and says he weighs 155 pounds, with just 7.5 percent body fat and a total cholesterol level of just 141.
"It's like running a marathon," Janus told ABC News last year. "Once in a while won't hurt you, but if you do one every day, it's not great for your body."
Neporent reported that most elite eaters strive to be just as lean and fit as Janus. Any excess belly fat can impede stomach expansion and limit intake.
4. Women are welcome: About 25 percent of the world's competitive eaters are women, with the most famous being Sonya Thomas, aka the Black Widow. Most competitions have separate male and female divisions. Women tend to down about half of what their male counterparts normally do.
Thomas, who only weighs 105 pounds, once downed 44 lobsters in 12 minutes and 80 chicken nuggets in five minutes. Thatta girl!
Here's a sampling of the competitive eaters' world records to chew on (yes, pun definitely intended):
º Pumpkin pie: Jamie "The Bear" McDonald, 40 slices in 10 minutes.
º Meatballs: Tom "Goose" Gilbert, 50 meatballs in seven minutes. (For the record, no specific size of the meatballs was provided.)
º French fries: Dave "Coondog" O'Karma, two pounds of fries in 3 minutes, 54 seconds.
º Chili: Bob "Killer" Kuhns, 10.5 pounds in eight minutes.
A world record for most Pepto Bismol consumed could not be verified.