Watery eyes, gasps for air

Jalapeņo-eating contests lures some

Josey Sitton bites into a jalapeņo.

Five-pound cans of green pickled jalapeņos glistened in the sun on the closing day of the Montezuma County Fair. A judge wore blue plastic gloves to place the peppers on paper plates.

Upon the word "go," spicy juices squirted in every direction as contestants chomped down on Saturday's jalapeņo-eating contest. Eyes watered. Hands waved in front of puffed mouths.

"You have to eat all the way down to the stem," the judge ordered.

Nearly two dozen contestants were allowed to drink or eat anything of their choosing during the contest. The winner simply raised a hand after swallowing all five peppers.

Justin Gray ate five pickled jalapeņos in less than two minutes to win the 12-and-under category. He swigged water and snacked on crackers during and after the contest. The 12-year-old from Cortez said he has entered the competition every year for as long as he could remember.

"I don't know," he replied, gasping deeply for respite, when asked how he ate the jalapeņos so quickly.

Contestants were a little leery to enter when the call went out to start the female 13-and-older category. Finally, four women sat down.

Debbie Hager, who ate 42 a few years ago, reclaimed her title. "I eat hot stuff at home every day," she said. "It doesn't bother me."

Five competed in the men's category, including a teen who used a large pixie stick to ease his suffering. He finished fourth.

"The sugar usually helps to cut it," he moaned.