Some couples play tennis or basketball. But one Naperville couple’s favorite sport to do together is competitive eating. On July 4, Sarah and Juan Rodriguez will take the stage of the national Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Sarah and Juan met at the Fourth of July competition four years ago, which is the first time Sarah was qualified to join. She described Juan, who’s been part of the competition for 10 years now, as the “social butterfly of the group” – making sure to introduce himself to new people.
“We met in person for the first time the weekend of the Fourth of July four years ago and we had our first kiss on July 5, and that was the end of the story,” said Sarah. “Well I mean I guess it was the beginning of the story. It was the end of us being our own people and starting as a unit.”
“[The] things competitive eating has brought me in my life, I never thought it would have brought my wife. We’re such a weird, eclectic group of eaters, all brought together by this crazy sport. But again, I would never have thought in my wildest dreams that I’d find such a smokin’ hot wife,” said Juan. “He has to say [that],” said Sarah.
Both Sarah and Juan are fitness-oriented. Sarah founded Whatever It Takes Health and Juan is a fitness coach. They said there’s a stereotype around competitive eaters. When people think of them, they think about those at county fairs.
But there’s actually a lot of work that goes into the sport.
“Competitive eating is a sport. If you can’t breathe properly, if you don’t have stamina, if you don’t feel strong to do it, you’re going to struggle,” said Sarah. “So most competitive eaters are lean, take care of themselves, eat well the rest of the time.”
Part of the process of training your body is making sure the stomach is stretched. Juan does this by using water to expand the stomach, while Sarah prefers to do it with vegetables.
The couple received an email on June 3 that they’d be competing in the national competition at Coney Island in New York once again this year. They’ve been practicing the last month – which means making 30 to 40 hot dogs a day.
“It’s been a long 30 days but it’s worth it on Sunday afternoon when we get out there in front of people again and have that energy to feed off of, and have the first competition in almost two years,” said Juan.
Less Visibility for Women
Juan’s competitive nature and Sarah’s larger appetite eventually led each of them to the sport. After Sarah watched online videos and noticed there weren’t many women in competitive eating, she was motivated to join in.
Sarah said it’s frustrating that women in this sport don’t get as much visibility. Women go first at the hot dog eating contest. Though it’s the same stage and audience, their competition is only streamed online on ESPN3 versus the men’s competition which is shown on the main ESPN channel.
“A lot of the times I feel like the women are told that we should just be jazzed that we got to be here. You know like, ‘at least you get to hang out, you’re getting paid the same.’ That’s the one I keep hearing,” said Sarah. “I don’t care about that, I just want to be treated the same. And I’m very lucky a lot of the men, including my husband, feel similarly. It’s just that nothing has changed.”
Even though this is the case, that hasn’t stopped Sarah from trying to do better every year. For both, their main goal isn’t to win the whole competition. It’s to beat their personal bests. Sarah hopes to eat more than 23 hot dogs in 10 minutes this year, while Juan’s goal is more than 33.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is important to the Naperville couple because it’s the place they met. But this year, it’s extra special as they’ll be competing as husband and wife for the first time.
“Being able to achieve our personal best together in an insane world that is competitive eating. How much we put in and devote to this,” said Juan. “It’s something we’re really good at and I love seeing her be her best and hit feats that she thought were never imaginable.”
“It’s the strangest thing in the world, what we do,” said Sarah. “Some couples play basketball together and this is what we do. And this is a culmination of a ton of hard work, so it’s amazing to do it together.”
Back home here in Naperville, the competitive eating duo have a dachshund puppy (wiener dog) named Kujo.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Sarah Rodriguez
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