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Hurst loses appetite for collard competition

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Four-time winner Taria Crenshaw competes in the collard eating contest at the Ayden Collard Festival in 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Stick a fork in Mort Hurst. The world-champion eater is done.

After the 2017 Ayden Collard Festival's collard-eating competition, Hurst, 69, had his fill. His first eating contest appearance in nearly 25 years was also his last.

By Wednesday, eight men and eight women had signed up for the eating contest, to be held Saturday in conjunction with the 44th annual Ayden Collard Festival. Four-time champion Taria Crenshaw is one of them, but Hurst, known as the “Collard King,” is not.

“I wanted to start in Ayden and finish in Ayden,” Hurst said. “That's what I did.”

Hurst, who set the record for collard consumption, 7.5 pounds in 30 minutes in 1984, had hoped to break that record last year, but came up about a pound and a half short.

“I ran out of ketchup,” he said. “I just can't eat collards without ketchup.

“I wanted to eat 8 pounds and I was shooting for 10; it just wasn't a good day,” Hurst said. “I was disappointed with what I did last year.”

Hurst's 6-pound showing was enough to grab the title. Crenshaw won the women's division by polishing off 3 and a quarter pounds of collards.

Crenshaw, 49, is Hurst's pick to take the title this year.

“She's a real nice girl,” he said. “She's what champions are made of.”

Hurst said he might attend Saturday's contest, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. on West Avenue Stage, but he ruled out any possibility of competing. If he had any intention of entering the contest, he would have begun preparations more than a month ago.

Last year, Hurst's “training” consisted of meals of a dozen pancakes and two dozen eggs or as many as 100 chicken McNuggets By the time the competition rolled around, he had 35 extra pounds to show for his effort.

But for Hurst, it was worth it. Media attention surrounding his comeback reminded him a little of his glory days of the 1980s and 1990s.

“We got national attention going in and coming out (of the 2017 contest),” Hurst said. “Friends of mine read about it Memphis, Tenn., and all in California and everywhere.”

The week before last year's competition, Hurst was signing autographs at Golden Corral in Smithfield after polishing off 500 shrimp from the buffet.

But in the months that followed, there was a price to pay for that fame. It took the champion eater about nine months to lose the weight that he had packed on in about six weeks.

“It's easy to put on and hard to take off,” Hurst said.“That's why I switched to speed eating because you don't gain that much weight.

“(With competitive eating) you've got such a monster of an appetite. You're eating everything in sight because you stay hungry.”

The last few pounds of last year's training weight gain didn't come off until Hurst experienced a case of food poisoning, followed by gastritis earlier this summer. Concerns for his health and a commitment to his family trumped the thrill of competition.

“It's tough on your body,” Hurst said. “I was skating on thin ice last year when I went because I had that stroke (following an eating contest) in 1991.

“I've dodged a lot of bullets, and I reckon it's time for me to hang that fork up.”

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