By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — From the outside looking in, it all fits. Molly Schuyler normally fills her days taking her girls to dance class and her son to Cub Scouts. She’s from middle America, Bellevue, Nebraska, to be more specific, a small city with a great view of the Missouri River where former Phillie pitcher Tyler Cloyd came from.
When Schuyler isn’t defining that slice of Midwest Americana, she’s defying it, downing nine pounds of cottage cheese in 114 seconds, or nine pounds of mushrooms in eight minutes, or three pounds of bacon in five minutes. It started with a five-pound burger no one thought she could eat.
Within a year’s time, the 5-foot-7, 125-pound mother of four has turned into an eating meteor soon to be landing at Wing Bowl 22 this Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. Schuyler is the latest in a line of amazing eaters that have adorned Wing Bowl, joining Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, Joey Chestnut and all-time Wing Bowl record holder Takeru Kobayashi (337 wings in 2012).
And very much like them, Schuyler began this unique odyssey on a whim.
“I never intended this to get this far, or be eating in competition,” Schuyler said. “I never even wanted to get into a contest. I ate a burger challenge, because someone said that I couldn’t do it.”
It wasn’t just any burger. This thing was called “The Stellanator,” stood taller than a newborn baby and contained six 6.5-ounce burger patties, six fried eggs, 12 pieces of bacon, six pieces of cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, and peanut butter all on a bun served with a basket of fries.
“I already knew I could eat,” Schuyler said. “I just wanted to shut people up. I knew if I could down one gallon of soda, I knew I could do that. I did it in 15 minutes, and if you eat the whole thing, you get it for free. I wasn’t thinking about competitive eating and it was never supposed to lead to anything.”
What launched Schuyler came by happenstance. On the way back home from a trip, she had heard about the Adam Emmenecker Challenge, a five-pound hamburger named after a former Drake basketball star, at a restaurant called Jethro’s, in Des Moines, Iowa.
When she ordered it, the patrons looked at her as if she were nuts. How could this tiny woman pound this down? Their eyes told her that they thought there was no way she could do this. The four-pound sandwich was stuffed with pork tenderloin, buffalo chicken tenders, an eight-ounce bacon cheeseburger, two slabs of fried cheese, cheddar sauce and a spicy pickle.
It has to be accomplished in 15 minutes. Schuyler devoured it in seven minutes and 53 seconds in January 2013.
According to Bruce Gerleman, Jethro’s owner, over 5,000 people have tried it, but only nine have ever accomplished the feat since 2009. “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman attempted it and failed.
Since then, Schuyler has broken almost every record in each contest she’s competed in. She blasted every one away in her first competition, the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines on Feb. 8-9, 2013, polishing off three pounds of bacon in five minutes. They invited her back this year. She’s competed against 2013 Wing Bowl champ Jamie “The Bear” McDonald, who ate 287 wings last year, and won four of the five times.
But success, Schuyler has found, has not come without a dose of jealous backlash.
“A lot of people are mean about it; some people don’t see competitive eating as classy or that a woman should do it,” Schuyler said. “If it was a guy, you would get a hell of a lot less flack. My family and the people around me are supportive. It is, I admit, an unusual talent. I am a blunt person who doesn’t take a lot of crap. I like to have fun. I like being a good person. But if I’m cornered, I can be a bitch and I will come after you. If you mess with me, I will fight. I’m really looking forward to this.
“I’ve never competed with wings before. I never heard of Wing Bowl until this year. I don’t have any wings here for the size that I need so I haven’t really practiced eating them. But I already heard how wild it is. I have to go in blind. I’m the only rookie and I’m coming in with my fingers cross. I’ve been in Philly before, but not for a contest. I hope they’re nice to me.”
It may be Super Bowl week for the rest of the country, but it’s Eat Week for Molly. She’ll arrive in Philadelphia Wednesday night, attend the weigh-in Thursday evening, and eat at the Wing Bowl Friday morning. Then it’s off for Des Moines, where on Saturday she’ll eat in the IHOP Pancake Bowl I, then attempt to defend her title later Saturday at the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival.
“Hey, the way I see it, it’s free food,” said Schuyler, laughing. “I am having fun with this. But I do feel that I have been put on a pedestal for Wing Bowl as a favorite, and no pun intended, it’s hard to digest. I’ll go in and just block things out. I won’t even think about it until I’m there. This whole week, it doesn’t exist until you experience it. If it’s meant to be, and God meant for me do it, it will happen. If I lose, it’s not a big deal. But winning $22,000 would be great to take home.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.