MEET THE MAN WHO HELPS JOEY CHESTNUT TRAIN FOR THE HOT DOG EATING CONTEST
By Connor Grossman
Every master of their craft still needs a little assistance now and then, right? For Joey Chestnut, an 11-time winner of Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest as of Wednesday, that help comes in the form of Aaron Stroope, one of his closest friends.
Stroope aids Chestnut as he trains for the hot dog eating contest—the Super Bowl of competitive eating—by trying to replicate the raucous conditions Chestnut faces at Coney Island. SI spoke with Stroope shortly after Chestnut devoured a record 74 hot dogs and buns on the Fourth of July.
The Q&A below was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: What is training like? What does it consist of?
Aaron Stroope: We try to do game-like [simulations]. You can’t have 40,000 people at your house. We always do loud music. Closer to [July 4] we pump up the contest, so we put that on replay. So [Chestnut] can hear George [Shea, the longtime emcee of the contest] yelling, he can hear the music, he can hear the crowd. Because it’s tough. It’s tough to amp yourself up when you’re sitting at home practicing eating hot dogs. It’s not the most ideal.
SI: Do you guys cook the hot dogs yourselves?
AS: I cook all the hot dogs at the house. Sometimes I’ve had him come to other restaurants to cook ’em up. It just makes it so much easier. A restaurant flat top is great for cooking 90 hot dogs. We use two griddles at home, which cooks up about 40-45 dogs each round. So it takes some time.
SI: What’s the most hot dogs you’ve seen him eat?
AS: Off hand, I’m not sure. We’re definitely up in the upper-70s. Seventy-four was a great number [this year] given the ambiance and how hot it is outside. It’s tough for us because during the daytime when it gets warm in California, you don’t want to really practice and motivation is tough. But you power through it. We’ve had a couple really good practices where it’s been really humid in the house.
SI: What’s important training-wise for a professional eater?
AS: Biggest thing is being able to have the capacity, being empty. The important thing is being able to stretch your stomach out. They’ve done a “Sports Science” on it and it’s crazy how much your stomach can actually stretch.
SI: Have you ever eaten competitively?
AS: I’ve done it a few times. I’ve known him for 10 years, I’ve been hanging out with [fellow competitive eaters]. I put myself through it last year. I did two taco contests and a gyoza contest. Never again.
SI: Does that give you greater appreciation for what Joey does?
AS: That’s what I want to do. I want to feel how [he] feels after a contest—and it’s not fun. I don’t mind eating 10 tacos at dinner, but like 30? 60? 90? No, that’s not for me.
SI: How much does Joey have left in him? Any signs of slowing down?
AS: No. To me, honestly, I think he’s just going to keep pushing. He’s raising that bar. As you see now, in his 14th year, he won it. The guys trying to catch him, the younger guys, they’re not getting there. He just wants to be No. 1. All he wanted to do was beat Kobayashi. That was the No. 1 goal getting into [Major League Eating]. Sure enough, that’s what happened.
BECAUSE YOU WERE WONDERING: HOW MANY HOT DOGS ARE PREPARED FOR THE HOT DOG EATING CONTEST?
According to Shea, the longtime emcee of the contest, approximately 1,500 hot dogs were fixed up for the contestants at Coney Island this year. Based on the official standings tweeted out by Major League Eating, 930.25 hot dogs were consumed between the men’s and women’s competitions. No word on what happened to the remaining 569.75 or so wieners. (As part of the event, Nathan’s Famous made a separate donation of 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.)
• Lee Jenkins goes inside LeBron’s decision to join the Lakers, featuring a phone call to Kobe and a house call from Magic.
• A placekicker as NFL MVP? Believe it. Mark Moseley went from placekicking legend to fast food executive.
• Kelly Orgeron, the wife of LSU coach Ed Orgeron, has survived depression, countless surgeries and a life-threatening emergency. This is her inspiring story.
• You may remember Rinku Singh as the “Million Dollar Arm”. Now he’s trying to make a name for himself in WWE.
• Matt Kemp slimmed down, wised up and is one of baseball’s most surprising stories this season.
• Ready for fantasy football? These are SI’s early Top 300 players.
WRITER RECALL: YOU KNOW TONY HAWK, PRO SKATEBOARDER. MEET TONY HAWK, SAVVY BUSINESSMAN
By Jacob Feldman
Editor’s note: After catching up with Tony Hawk, now 50 and parenting four kids (plus two stepsons), SI’s Jacob Feldman peels back the curtain on a different area of Hawk’s life. The face of skateboarding has a few tricks up his sleeve that don’t involve a half-pipe.
Tony Hawk made a killing on Bitcoin.
A tech head who burned some of his first paychecks at Sharper Image, Hawk came across cryptocurrency in industry publications five or so years ago and began investing. After the value skyrocketed last year, he told his family they could have whatever they wanted for Christmas. He’s explaining this all to me on the floor in his daughter’s room while playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch she requested. (Maybe technophilia is genetic?)
When I went to visit Hawk in California, I expected to find the man who realized there was money to be made in skateboarding. But Hawk turned out not to be a businessman in a boarder’s body. And his disposition when it came to finances was far from unique among his peers. I quickly learned that half of being a skateboarder is hustling to make it a sustainable career. The skaters he grew up with are still playing the same game. One works as a freelance writer, another owns a skate shop, a third has a sock line and so on. None are chasing fame or riches. They just want to keep skating.
For Hawk, it just so happens that passion often begets profit. His tech obsession also led to a friendship with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kevin Rose, which in turn led to a successful investment in Blue Bottle Coffee. Hawk was one of the first athletes to embrace both Twitter and Instagram, and his large fanbase on those platforms (over seven million followers, combined) has precipitated big-time endorsement deals.
But the bottom line for him is always this: Those fortuitous deals have allowed the 50-year-old to continue spending his days doing what he loves—skating, or thinking about it.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Editor’s note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week’s list was curated by Jacob Feldman, who also produces the Sunday Long Read.
• The Athletic celebrated “KD Day” with a series of stories about Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors, including this helpful timeline from Danny Leroux about the series of moves that made the signing possible.
• For The Ringer, Alan Siegel found out how Steve Albini went from musician to poker champion
• “There may be no historic parallel for the bizarre Kawhi Leonard situation,” Zach Lowe wrote on ESPN, before doing his best to explain where things stand.
• Isabelle Khurshudyan is continuing to follow the Stanely Cup’s travels with various Capitals in The Washington Post.
• Wimbledon logs the marriage history of every woman who reaches the semifinal, for reasons Karen Crouse and Ben Rothenberg explain for The New York Times.
• The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman did some serious reporting to learn about the secret world of signal stealing in college football.
• Over on Vox, Liv Boeree’s simple question—why haven’t we found aliens yet?—quickly devolves into a lot of math.
• Tim Berners-Lee, credited with creating our internet, tells Katrina Booker and Vanity Fair that he has some regrets.
• Luke Mullins, writing for The Atlantic, tells the heart-breaking story of the time when police spokesman T.J. Smith had to tell the city about the killing of his own brother.
VAULT PHOTO OF THE WEEK: REMEMBER KOBAYASHI?
Takeru Kobayashi dominated the competitive eating circuit for years. He revolutionized the niche community when he inhaled 50 hot dogs at the 2001 competition, shattering the previous year’s winning mark of 25.125.
Kobayashi won the hot dog eating title (a title honored with the Mustard Belt) six straight years before being unseated by Joey Chestnut in 2007. Major League Eating eventually barred Kobayashi from competing after he refused to sign an exclusive contract. He last competed in the annual event in ’09.
He’s pictured above at Coney Island in 2016. Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II.