Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
Pacing back and forth, listening to 50 Cent on his iPod, stretching his arms and legs like a sprinter before an Olympic event, Scott Bickel prepared himself for an eating challenge Saturday in The Lantern newsroom.
Bickel, 20, from North Royalton, Ohio, just south of Cleveland, has been competitively eating since last August, when he walked into 82nd Street Grill and Pub in North Royalton and devoured a 4-pound burger in seven minutes.
His inspiration comes from watching last year’s Coney Island Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4. Ever since, he has been pursuing a championship for the city of Cleveland.
“It’s weird, competitive eating sounds so stupid, but I look at the bigger picture, bringing a championship to the city and just bringing some excitement to the town,” Bickel said.
Saturday was not one of Bickel’s better days as he put down “only” 37 chicken tenderloins from Raising Cane’s, roughly 5 pounds of food, in 30 minutes. To anyone else, 37 chicken tenders might seem like a lot, but not compared to his past feats.
“It took so long to chew; when I hit the first one I knew it was going to be a long 30 minutes,” Bickel said.
Some of his feats include consuming the entire “2 for $20” menu at Applebee’s (roughly 13 pounds of food and more than 23,000 calories), eating 5 pounds of beef and mashed potatoes in six minutes at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, and conquering the 5-pound grilled cheese Melt Challenge at Melt Bar and Grilled in 18 minutes. It took “Man v. Food’s” Adam Richman nearly an hour to accomplish the 13-cheese sandwich.
Bickel’s next competition is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Hang Over Easy, where he will attempt to eat a 12-egg omelet totaling 7.5 pounds, according to Hang Over Easy.
Bickel did not always have the desire to be a competitive eater. Bickel played four sports in high school, taught himself how to play the piano, how to do card tricks and wrote a published book by the age of 19.
The book, titled “The White Picket Fence,” tells a story of a couple that falls in love at an early age and is reunited years later. According to Amazon, the book is 114 pages, sells for $17.99 and targets an audience ages nine to 14. The book, which he finished in a 52 days, draws from some of his own experiences. Bickel said the book is “loosely based on his own life.”
Bickel, born to drug-addicted, abusive parents, has undergone rough times. From age 2 to age 5 he went from one foster home to the next, being separated from his older brother and two sisters. Finally, when Scott was 5, Norman and Patricia Bickel adopted him into their family.
“They were everything you could ask for, for parents. They really took me in, took care of me, loved me,” Scott said.
The tough times did not end there, as Scott was medically discharged from the U.S. Marines Corps because of back problems after graduating atop his class.
“It’s something I saw myself doing for 20 years,” Scott said.
Shortly after being discharged, Scott started his goal of becoming one of the world’s best competitive eaters.
“The first month I’d say I probably did at least 100 hours between doctors, physicians, my own research and my own experimenting,” Scott said.
When Scott first began his training regimen, his parents were a bit worried.
“We were concerned about his health or choke (sic), anything a parent would normally be concerned with,” Norman said.
Worry quickly turned into support.
“He wants to accomplish something; I’m certainly not going to hold him back from something he sets his heart on,” Patricia said.
The Bickels said Scott showed signs of his future in competitive eating as a child.
“Oh yeah, he used to eat a lot as a kid,” Patricia said.
For Scott, it’s not just about stuffing his face full of food.
“A lot of these eaters are so fat, so obese, and they’re sending the wrong message,” Scott said. “Man, if you’re going to do this to your body, do it the right way.”
Scott is referring to his own training routine that includes training for six days a week, running five to 10 miles every day, working out and chugging as much water infused with Gatorade powder as possible. The water helps stretch out his stomach and he typically chugs about three gallons a day and as many as five gallons a day in the days leading up to a big event. He only eats grapes and carrots, and drinks water in the few days before an event.
The atmosphere around Bickel’s events are “pretty charged,” Gemmel said. Scott bounces up and down like a mad man, listens to Linkin Park, Eminem and even Christian rap on his iPod.
Bickel asks his parents not to come to his events and tries to tune out the crowd around him.
“I never know what people are saying or screaming. I try not to even look at the crowd,” Bickel said.
Not everyone initially had his back, but now he has many supporters.
“He just started pursuing his dream and he’s been going with it and he’s definitely gone a long way and I’m proud of him,” said Orest Danylewycz, a first-year in chemical engineering went to high school with Bickel.
The doubters still fuel Bickel.
“Whenever you’re doing something, you’re always going to have people that love you and hate you,” Bickel said. “I’ve never let that stuff bother me my whole life, it just motivates me more.”