Sonya Thomas is the nation’s leading woman in the competitive eating circuit. Don't let her 100-pound frame fool you; she holds 39 world records. Born in Gunsan, South Korea, she's currently a Burger King manager in Alexandria, Virginia. She holds records for chicken wings, cheesecake, hard-boiled eggs, and chicken nuggets in various competitions; she has earned the nickname “Black Widow” for her ability to take down male competitors more than double her size. She competes at this weekend's hamburger eating contest at the National Hamburger Festival in Akron.
What peeked your interest in eating competitions?
It all started 10 years ago. I’m small, but I’m a big eater. I had a big appetite. I could always eat more than other people and I’m very competitive. I was watching TV in 2002 and there was an eating competition on the news. I thought, “Maybe I can do this. I can try out."
Where did you find your start in eating competitions?
My first competition was in 2003, and it was a hot dog eating contest. That was my foot-in-the-door for all eating competitions and I won in women’s and beat a lot of the guys. I thought, “Oh maybe I’m good.”
What has been one of your favorite competitions?
I love hardboiled eggs. I entered into a competition and I thought maybe I could eat 52 so I asked for 65 to get a chance at breaking the record [which was 32 at the time.] I ended up eating all the eggs in 6 minutes and 40 seconds because the eggs ran out. I heard people shout, “Oh my God, the lady can eat!”
How do you prepare?
I try not to eat the day before. Normally, I take a lot of liquids in my meals to stretch my stomach daily. I exercise, too. Not to lose weight, it is just good for your body. It clears your mind. You must focus. Speed eating is more mental than physical. I have a very strong mind and I don’t like to lose. I try to fight myself.
What is your favorite food?
Seafood is my favorite. I like to eat vegetables, fruits, and sushi. I don’t like eating sweets. I’m not crazy about them.
How do you think this year’s hamburger eating contest will go?
It’s going to be interesting. I’m confident because I like hamburgers. I looked up the winner from last year [Akron firefighter Matt Askea] and he ate 11 hamburgers in 5 minutes. That’s pretty good! But, how can he keep up for 10 minutes? I’m very confident in myself. I’m looking forward to the competition.