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LI competitive eaters loosen their belts

Paul Arcaria of West Babylon devours a plate

Paul Arcaria of West Babylon devours a plate of ravioli in the annual "Nicky's Ravioli Contest" to benefit West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition at Villa Monaco Restaurant in West Islip. Arcaria won first place. (July 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Matzo balls. Hot dogs. Beef patties. They don't stand a chance when Long Island's competitive eaters are sitting at the contest tables.

Whether stuffing food down in Herculean gulps or Road Runner-esque bites, these five eating champs leave nothing but a trail of crumbs.

"You go all out. You don't worry about if your jaws are going to lock up or if you're going to get too full," says Paul Arcaria, 33, of West Babylon. "You don't worry about anything. You ingest."

So what compels someone to eat for fame and, well, not quite fortune?

"It's kind of like being Spider-Man," says Eric Booker, 42, of Selden, who belongs to Major League Eating, a professional eating franchise. "Your everyday life is the Peter Parker mode, but when you come into town as 'Badlands Booker,' it's kind of like you're a superhero."

But being a superhero is not without its criticism. Some say the so-called sport glamorizes the gorging of high-caloric chow and promotes unhealthy choices.

"A 10-minute contest is not going to make or break someone's health," says Allen Goldstein of Plainview, another Major League eater. "If you balance things out -- if you eat healthy and you exercise and you try to do the right things between contests -- I think most people will be OK."

Mike Hoffman, 29, an All Pro Eating Promotions "eatertainer" of Farmingdale, agrees.

"It's not the kind of thing someone does all the time," he says. "I guess I can compare it to someone who plays in a softball league -- you come, you have a good time, and you make some great memories."

Eric 'Badlands' Booker

AGE 42

HOMETOWN Selden

OCCUPATION Conductor for NYC Transit Authority

TECHNIQUE "You need stomach capacity. You need strategy. You need stamina. And you need a focused mind."

TITLES 1st place for eating 13 pounds of cheesecake in six minutes at the Downtown Atlantic Restaurant in 2005; 1st place for eating 9 1 / 2 one-pound bowls of peas in 12 minutes in Mt. Holyoke, Mass.

BIGGEST PRIZE $2,500 gift certificate to P.C. Richard & Son for downing 21 baseball-size matzo balls in 51 / 2 minutes in 2002 at Ben's Deli in Manhattan.

NEXT COMPETITION Thursday, at the Feast of San Gennaro's cannoli-eating competition in Manhattan.

Patrick 'The Viper' Viviano

AGE 24

HOMETOWN Plainview

OCCUPATION Personal trainer

TECHNIQUE Eats by "picnic" rules -- as in, no dipping food in water or otherwise ruining the food's integrity.

TITLES 2010 frozen yogurt eating champion for eating two pounds of red velvet frozen yogurt in 54 seconds at Wicked Spoon in Brooklyn; 1st place in Sal's Place wing eating contest in Massapequa for downing 3 pounds of hot wing meat in 5 minutes

BIGGEST PRIZE $500 for eating 40 dumplings in two minutes at the 2010 Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest in Manhattan.

NEXT COMPETITION Monday at the National Apple Pie Eating Championship in Manhattan.

Mike 'The Real Skinny' Hoffman

AGE 29

HOMETOWN Farmingdale

OCCUPATION Senior financial analyst

TECHNIQUE A combination of little bites and big bites. "I'm very focused. My face turns beet red. . . . I have a rhythm to the way I eat. It's a steadiness."

TITLES 2005 and 2006 Long Island Pizza Eating Champion at Adventureland in Farmingdale; 1st place for eating 1.8 pounds of kosher dill pickles in five minutes at Carnegie Deli in Manhattan.

BIGGEST PRIZE $400 at this year's Caribbean Food Delights Beef Patty Eating Contest in Middlebury, Conn.

NEXT COMPETITION Potato latke eating contest at Zan's Deli in Lake Grove in December.

Allen 'Shredder' Goldstein

AGE 47

HOMETOWN Plainview

OCCUPATION Federal government worker

TECHNIQUE Stomach training (as in, conditioning it to handle more food).

TITLES 2004 Bologna Eating Champion of the World in International Federation of Competitive Eating contest (downed about 2.41 pounds in six minutes); 2nd place for eating 19 cannolis in six minutes at the 2008 Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan.

BIGGEST PRIZE $600 for eating 34 hamburger sliders in eight minutes at the 2007 Krystal Square Off in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NEXT COMPETITION Nathan's hot dog-eating qualifiers in the spring of 2012.

Paul 'Porkslap' Arcaria

AGE 33

HOMETOWN West Babylon

OCCUPATION LIRR special service attendant

TECHNIQUE "Competitive eating is 90 percent mind over matter. It's fighting back every urge of your body to say stop doing it and you just keep going."

TITLES 1st place for eating 2 1/2 pounds of hot wings in two minutes at the 2011 New York Boat Show Wing-A-Thon, 1st place for eating 15 large cheese ravioli in one minute at Villa Monaco's ravioli eating competition in West Islip in 2011.

BIGGEST PRIZE $200 at the 2008 World Bun and Cheese Eating Championship for eating five sandwiches in 3 minutes, 54 seconds in the Bronx.

NEXT COMPETITION Sept. 19 at the National Apple Pie Eating Championship in Manhattan.

Where pigging out wins a prize

If you're hungry to test out your eating chops, several contests this fall are open to amateurs (and spectators):

PIZZA

WHEN | WHERE 4 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18, Long Island Family Festival at Tanner Park, 123 Kerrigan Rd., Copiague

PRIZE $75 cash and a T-shirt

ENTRY Free

INFO 631-367-8599, lifamilyfestival.com

CLAMS & RIBS

WHEN | WHERE 1 p.m. Sept. 24 (clams) and 1:30 p.m. (ribs) at the Family Festival by the Sea, Lido Beach Town Park, 630 Lido Blvd. Register by Sept. 23

PRIZES Restaurant gift certificates for top three finishers in each competition

ENTRY $15

INFO 516-292-9000, ext. 382, toh.li

MEATBALLS

WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Long Island Fall Festival at Heckscher Park, Huntington. Register by Sept. 29

PRIZE $10 gift certificate to Rosa's Pizza and a T-shirt

ENTRY Free

INFO 631-423-6100, lifallfestival.com

OYSTERS

WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Oyster Festival, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, Oyster Bay

PRIZE Winner receives $50 and a plaque; 2nd-place finisher receives $25 and plaque

ENTRY Free

INFO 516-628-1625, theoysterfestival.org

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