Before he won the Brick Factor Master Model Builder Competition on Sunday, Michael Tocidlowski hadn't played with LEGOS for years.
"I pretty much prepped a couple of days ago," said Tocidlowski, a 22-year-old Patterson resident whose prize was a full-time job with benefits at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester.
"As a kid, when I was little, we always had LEGOS," he said. "I had to go find my LEGO bin."
Around 75 people attended the competition, which took place in a tent at the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers, where the Discovery Center is slated to open in the spring. Multicolored LEGO creations were lined up on long tables, with their creators proudly standing behind them as a gaggle of judges assessed each entry.
In choosing Tocidlowski from 19 other competitors, judges cited his miniature LEGO dirt bike, which included an ingenious bike chain made out of the plastic building blocks, as a prime reason for his victory.
"I like how the chain was inside the sculpture," said Fox Perelson, an 8-year-old from Putnam Valley who joined three adults on the judges' panel.
Tocidlowski and other contestants also had to submit to a more formal job interview in which they demonstrated their skills as managers as well as their interest in working with children and representing the LEGO brand in public.
"We want to test them with all the elements they need to deal with the job," said Chris Mines, a judge who will manage the Westchester County store.
Other contestants were more serious about LEGOS than Tocidlowski.
"It's my dream job to work for the LEGO company," said Linda Tedesco, 44, of Lagrangeville.
Tedesco said she already earns a living by making LEGO structures at children's parties and other events. "I'm one of those people who, when you go to a resort, is building a LEGO snowman," she said.
Queens resident Kazumi Ovalle, the wife of a contestant, said her husband, Omar, had found a fun hobby with the toys. "He really started getting into it two years ago," she said. "It's really been therapeutic for him."
She added that her husband had made contacts with LEGO enthusiasts around the world.
"He's got all these French friends in France," she said. "It's a global network of people who love this."
Tocidlowski said he was never part of a LEGO subculture. But he was excited to start a new career working with LEGOS and kids who will visit the Discovery Center to play and learn with them.
"I've always had a creative side," said Tocidlowski, who works as a salesman for an electronics company. "Now that I'm an adult, it's more of a medium for me, something I can touch and control, like clay, but LEGOS."