When I was first approached with the opportunity to compete in the Belly Buster VIII contest at Saturday night's Crosscutters game I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
Soon afterwards I gave my decision a little more thought.
On one hand, it was a chance to eat free food and get away from the college-student impulse to eat takeout or Ramen noodles for every meal.
On the other hand, I could be publicly humiliated by not being able to force down whatever weird choice of food the Crosscutters were going to throw at the contestants. I took my chances.
I didn't do much to prepare for the contest even though I had a week or so to prepare - that just wouldn't be fair, I thought. If I'm going to win it's going to be because I was able to consume massive amounts of food in a short period of time before the other contestants, not because I was better prepared.
Nerves didn't really play much of a factor up until about 10 minutes before we were set to begin, as contestants shared horror stories of the possible foods we would be forced to consume. Some had heard an entire loaf of bread, others had heard an entire bottle of mustard. I just tried to ignore it and stay focused.
At the beginning of the second inning all nine contestants were presented with two hot dogs - not much if you ask me. It was just to get us started, even if one contestant couldn't finish in the allotted amount of time of one full inning from the first pitch to the last out.
The third inning is where things got interesting. We were presented with a bag of Romaine lettuce and other assorted vegetables. The nine-ounce bag didn't seem like much at first, but we all figured out that was completely wrong.
"When you got it you thought it was easy," said Dominick Wolfe, 19, of Sunbury. "It ended up being a lot more. Nine ounces was a lot more than I thought."
The deceptively difficult lettuce eliminated two contestants and pushed me to the final out of the third inning. I could tell that from that point things were going to be difficult.
The third round, as promised, got both more difficult and even more interesting. We were given nine ounces of sliced turkey. Again, it didn't seem difficult at first, but we quickly found out otherwise.
Nine ounces ended up being quite a bit more than any of us had anticipated. The turkey was salty, which made contestants thirsty, and in turn, forced us to drink water, further filling our stomachs and making each bite that more difficult.
I struggled through the turkey, but eventually finished. My strategy to eat as fast as possible and then recover wasn't helping much. My strategy wouldn't really matter though, as Round 4 was where I met my demise.
By the fourth round there were only four contestants left, including myself. The 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade they brought out quickly proved who top the contestants were. I struggled through the first 20 or so ounces and forced down the rest while the others seemed to cruise. With each gulp my stomach continued to fill up to the point where I couldn't take anymore. Thankfully, I reached the bottom of the bottle as my stomach filled to the brim.
I realized it was over not long after I finished my bottle. I couldn't stand another bite of food or another ounce of liquid in my system. I rushed down the steps, along the concourse, and down the walkway to the men's restroom where all my problems quickly went away. I came back a new man. Unfortunately, though, I was disqualified for leaving the competition area and left the final three to fight for the title.
I felt much better after my bathroom visit, although I still had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. It could have been the fact that I had so much food still there, or it could have been the shame and self-loathing I was beginning to feel after consuming so much food in so little time - I still don't really know.
Either way, I was done. And after seeing what was planned for the fifth round, I was glad I was done. The final three contestants looked horrified when 10-ounce bags of ketchup were brought out. I knew, then, I would have been beaten even if I lasted past the Gatorade.
The final three forced down the ketchup, slowly but surely. And soon after, the winner would be found. Pickled eggs were the final food for the night. Two contestants slowly picked at their container while another let his sit for the better part of the inning.
All three were clearly displeased with the food selection, but in the end, one was the victor. Bill Flynn, of Montoursville, who fell behind as the other two made one last final push, made one final push of his own. His final effort, however, put him over the top.
"I feel really proud of myself that I accomplished this," Flynn said later. "It was really hard to do. It wasn't easy."
Flynn is exactly right, it wasn't easy. It's exhausting. It put both a physical and mental strain on the contestants, and he was able to handle it better than everyone else.
Flynn, and the rest of the final three earned their spots. Eating is as much a mental game as it is being able to eat a lot of food, and the final three all proved they could handle it.
"I felt when I came in, if I won, or if I lost, it doesn't matter," Flynn said with a smile on his face. "Because I'm still ahead."
Normally I wouldn't be happy after a loss, even if it was just in an eating contest. I would be bitter and maybe even livid that I lost. I'm one of those people that hates losing more than I love winning.
Saturday night was different, though. I'm OK that I lost to Bill Flynn. He earned it.