Eric Booker, 39, is a Springfield Gardens resident, father of three and a conductor of the No. 7 train. He also happens to be one of the most visible members in his sport – competitive eating.
Booker, known as “Badlands Booker” and “The People’s Champ,” has been on the competitive eating circuit for more than a decade, and will be competing in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest this Fourth of July at Coney Island.
“It’s the Super Bowl of our sport,” said Booker. “The best eaters come to compete, and it’s a huge event.”
Booker, who punched his ticket to the contest by eating 40 hot dogs in a qualifying round, got his start in competitive eating with Nathan’s.
“Back in 1997 I took my kids to a Nathan’s in Oceanside, Long Island,” he recalled. “I remember there being a poster with Uncle Sam holding a frank, advertising the contest and I decided to give it a shot. I ended up winning a trophy and a year’s supply of hot dogs, which I shared with my family.”
Booker has since moved on to compete in a large number of events, eating all kinds of foods. “I’ve done everything from chicken wings to candy bars,” remarked Booker. “If you’ve had it, chances are I’ve eaten it on the clock.”
Booker adheres to a strict training regimen in order to keep at the top of his game.
“There are four things you need to have in order to be a successful eater: stomach capacity, stamina, focus, and a game plan.”
He commits to eating large amounts of low-calorie foods in order to increase his stomach’s ability to handle mammoth portions, and working the treadmill to keep his stamina up and keep from hitting the dreaded “wall,” the point where eaters get tired and slow down.
Booker also watches a considerable amount of “game tape” in order to formulate a strategy.
“I watch tapes of myself to see what I can do better, as well as tapes of other eaters to see what strategy they’re using to eat the food as quickly as they can.” He also acknowledges the importance of a consistent and quick pace. “I listen to dance music or up tempo hip-hop and eat along to the beat in order to keep focused and continue plowing through the food. The crowd, pressure and all the other eaters are blocked out of my mind.”
Booker, besides from being a competitive force, has developed into an entertainer.
“I’ve been doing hip-hop all my life, I was one of those cats in the ‘90s trying to get a deal,” he remarked with a laugh. “Then for an event called the ‘wing bowl’ I was asked to write a rap. It was played on the radio and became popular. My pen got hot after that, and one rap turned into a few more and before I knew it I had an album.”
He currently has four albums out, entitled “Hungry and Focused” 1-4. He will also be performing songs off his fifth album at the pre game show of the contest on July 4.
“I don’t have a deal, the whole music operation is run out of my house,” Booker pointed out. “I do it for the fans. How many people rap about eating?”
Booker has gained a considerable amount of exposure promoting contests and upcoming competitive eating events.
“I’ve been on a bunch of shows,” said Booker. “It’s a great experience to be on talk shows like Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel and get a limo and a nice hotel room. It feels like rock star treatment.”
Booker is optimistic for his upcoming event.
“I reached my personal best with 40 [hot dogs] this year, and I’m aiming to hit that or do better in the contest,” he said. “I hope everyone else is hungry and focused, because I know I’ll be.”