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Diminutive mom is big eating champ.

By Steve HendrixWASHINGTONAuJuliet LeeAAEs first bite of the day is a doozy. With elegant little fingers she jams half a beefsteak tomato into a mouth that looks better sized for an olive on a toothpick. Only by leaning over does she spare her satin blouse from a jet of seedy juice.And this isnAAEt even for money.AoI get hungry in the evening time,Ao says Lee. At least, thatAAEs what it sounds like through the garble of tomato pulp. AoI could eat 20 tomatoes.AoSheAAEs not exaggerating. Standing just over five feet tall and weighing just over 100 pounds, Lee has a quirk for which she is becoming increasingly famous: Being a diminutive beauty with the appetite of a linebacker.LeeAua 44-year-old mother of two and busy hair salon ownerAuis the 11th-highest-ranked professional competitive eater in the world. The weekdays she spends attending school events and styling other peopleAAEs hair are followed by weekends filled with inhuman quantities of food, not so much eaten as shoved down her esophagus under strictly timed conditions. This yoga-practicing suburbanite, who wears size-zero jeans and shops the junior racks at KohlAAEs, has eaten, for example, 34 hot dogs, 48 tamales, 22 pork barbecue sandwiches and nearly five dozen Krystal hamburgers. All within minutes.Find that, ahem, hard to swallow? Try five pounds of ribs, 43 inches of cheese steak sub, 31 dozen raw oysters, 13 slices of pizza, 13 pounds of cranberry sauce, 13 date nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches. ItAAEs all documented, much of it having aired on ESPN, Spike and YouTube.AoIAAEve always been able to eat more than anybody else,Ao Lee says in an accent still heavy with the Mandarin of her native northwest China. During summers with her grandparents, LeeAAEs 20 cousins would ridicule the chowtime dominance of the pint-sized girl with the pig-pen appetite. AoIt was embarrassing. I was smaller, but I ate more even than the boys.AoAt home in suburban Germantown, Md., her husband, Joey Callow, is chopping vegetables and shaking his head.AoThis is why itAAEs so hard to cook,Ao he calls out as another tomato evaporates. AoYou cut it, and it just goes away.AoThe two fix dinner together nearly every night, often with the help of their two teenage daughters. As Callow prepares for tonightAAEs menu of asparagus omelets, salad and shrimp stir fry, Lee brings in end-of-the-season produce from the backyard garden.At 5:30 p.m., this is her first food of the day. Since she was a student at Nanjing University keen to make more time for the library, she has been condensing all of her meals into one big one at dayAAEs end.AoNot all of it!Ao Callow cries as his wife inserts a bouquet of fresh basil into her mouth. Too late.Three years ago, Lee learned about a local pizza-eating contest. She had never heard of competitive eating, but the concept spoke to her.AoI thought, AaeI can do thatAAE,Ao she says. AoThatAAEs me. I love to eat and love to compete. ItAAEs natural, like a cat knows he can jump from the top of the stairs.AoHer family was quietly skeptical as Lee bellied up to the big table at Greenbelt Three Brothers Pizza in August 2006. AoWe were debating her odds and my daughter said AaeWhatAAEs between zero and nothing allAAE?Ao Callow recalls. But by the time Lee stopped working her jaws, theirs had dropped wide open. She had downed 11 slices in 10 minutes, beating men more than twice her weight and setting an amateur record.AoI just had no idea,Ao Callow says. He is now her manager, making the arrangements for about a dozen stops on the pro circuit a year. SheAAEs been averaging about $5,000 in prize money annually, he says, a little more than enough to cover their travel expenses.Lee, who immigrated to the US in 1992 after working as a college chemistry teacher, still eats mostly seafood and vegetables. On stage, many of the foods Lee faces are completely new to her. Not that it matters.Sitting down last Memorial Day at a seafood restaurant in Island Park, N.Y., she had never eaten a cherrystone clam. When she stood up six minutes later, she had eaten 23 dozen, a new world record.Her neighbors and clients were surprised to see the local mom on the Krystal Burger and NathanAAEs Hot Dogs circuits, eating with the big guys on national television.AoMy son said, AaeHey Dad, I saw your hair cutter on TVAAE,Ao says Claude Magnuson, a client of LeeAAEs for the past 11 years. AoThat was wild. SheAAEs not really what you expect in a competitive eater. SheAAEs shy.AoHer daughters have embraced their motherAAEs strange new celebrity as a master masticator, traveling with her to competitions nationwide. AoAt home, she still asks what words are in English, but eating is a universal language,Ao Lily, 13, says. AoShe doesnAAEt even have to think.AoIn fact, Lee has quickly learned a third language: Trash talk.Right now she is getting ready for her next major event, a Nov. 8 meatball-eating contest in Vegas. Only Lee pointedly says she is not getting ready. She doesnAAEt do test runs or drink stomach-stretching amounts of water or train in any way.AoIf I ever start training, they going to be really scared of me,Ao she says.AoSheAAEs lying. Everybody whoAAEs semi-decent in this sport trains in some way,Ao says Tim AoGravyAo Brown, a 205-pound Chicago eater ranked ninth in the world. AoYou canAAEt just show up and eat 60 hot dogs.AoBrown and Lee are friendly rivals. Hours after a 2008 oyster contest in New Orleans, the two fell into an impromptu chicken-wing eat-off at a French Quarter bar, followed by a foot race and light pole-climbing contest. Both claim to have won.AoHe lies,Ao says Lee. But then, OK: AoHe cheated. I was in high heels.AoIn fact, Lee is the one being increasingly cast as the rule bender. At last yearAAEs Krystal AoSquare OffAo, with a $20,000 first prize on the line, Lee was socked with a 30-burger penalty for dunking her buns in water and leaving a mess of soggy bread on the table. The International Federation of Competitive Eating subsequently banned dunking, and Lee has been hearing a whisper campaign about her eating ethics.AoThey say I hide the food in my bra,Ao Lee says with a laugh. AoThey just donAAEt like to lose to a woman.AoHigh-stakes feeding, she says, satisfies her biggest appetite of all, a taste for novel experiences.AoI like new things,Ao she says.At that moment, Callow leans over from the sink.AoAre you wearing Harley Davidson earrings?Ao he asks in surprise. AoDid you get a tattoo, too?AoLee smiles and fingers her lobe, gnawing on an asparagus stalk.AoIAAEm not telling,Ao she says.LATWP News Servic

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Oct 19, 2009
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