Taste of Forest City: 46 pierogies, 10 mins.

As the gun went off and pierogies went down Saturday, Russ Keeler stood still and watched his 19 competitors as the clock ticked and his pierogies cooled.
He was giving his competitors at the Forest City Old Home Week Pierogi Eating Contest what amounted to a 60-second head start, keeping an eye on them from the far left of the long table.
To his right with shocks of purple hair and a determined gaze, Larell Marie Mele of Tobyhanna, another major-league competitive eater, displayed her mastery of the fold-and-stufftechnique, downing pierogies whole.
Forest City resident Kevin Lesjack was recovering from “excessive celebration” the evening before, friends said, and was unrested and out of form.
Joe Haughton of Washington, D.C., a guitarist with an Air Force band performing at the festival, trained for weeks, eating large meals. But he’s an amateur, his reliance on the plastic flatware slowing him down.
Some competitors had handles: “The Machine,” “The Pierogi Undertaker.” Many sported eye-heart-pierogi t-shirts, designed by Jennifer Carachilo, manager of Dave’s Smoke Shop, which sponsored the competition with Plumpy’s Pierogies.
Most competitors sat; some stood. But no one stood a chance against Keeler as pierogies disappeared into his maw as though they were peanuts. Like an expert card player, Keeler kept count of everyone and made sure he was a few hundred calories ahead.
For 10 minutes, mascot Pierogi Man rallied the crowd and encouraged competitors from the bandstand. A mix of humor and menace, Pierogi Man sported red tights, a gold lame cape and shorts and a giant pierogi head with a dead stare.
The crowd of 300 cheered, some heckled. A single buttery finger rose as a reply.
Gray-haired spiritual dean of the competition, Forest City’s own Ed Horgan blinked and became disoriented. Soaking each pierogi in butter to help them slide down, he found they still turned to concrete in his mouth as he approached 26, seven fewer than last year.
Defending champion Chris Smith met his match at 42, the same as 2009. “It’s the best I can do,” he sighed, a personal plateau enough to earn him second place.
Mele took a paper towel to her mouth, prompting fears she would suffer what competitive eating jargon indelicately refers to as a “reversal.” Every competitor had a bucket for that purpose, the equivalent of a crash in NASCAR. None was used. The close call held Mele to 37, a number she was not happy with. She earned a repeat at third place. “I’m not happy. I did terrible,” she said, as tough on herself as she is on pierogies.
An experienced competitive eater, Keeler, who stands 6’3′ and weighs a solid 325 pounds, won with 46 pierogies. In the past, he has distinguished himself at consuming massive amounts of shoo-fly pie, tater tots and pizza. His next challenge is hot wings.
“I got a good number here – everyone did,” he said.
Respected as a gentleman and giant in the sport, Keeler, of Kingston, could have shattered the competition record of 51 and beat the competition by a baker’s dozen were it not for his modesty, said competition organizer Jessie Graytock.
“Russ has a heart of gold – and a stomach of iron,” Graytock said.

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