04/29/12 — A peck of pickles ... and fun

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A peck of pickles ... and fun

By Kelly Corbett
Published in News on April 29, 2012 1:50 AM

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Noah Oakes, left, Elijah Smith, Brian Kohls II, Dorian Sutton and James Whitley wait for their cucumbers to begin their race down the ramp Saturday at the N.C. Pickle Festival.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Saturday morning began cloudy and chilly with North Carolina Pickle Festival organizers fearing the worst -- rain.

The word is unspoken at festival committee meetings, which some thought might have been the reason the day remained clear for the largest turnout of an estimated 50,000 people.

Last year, the festival brought out about 40,000. And this year, the festival's 26th, organizers said even more filled the streets of the town with a population under 5,000, playing pickle games and meandering through the vendors lining Center Street and side streets in the downtown area.

Before the mass of crowds appeared, though, the morning began early with just under 100 runners in the Kornegay Arena parking lot at Mount Olive College lining up for the Cuke Patch 5K.

Tony Best and James Kornegay, friends from Mount Olive, have teamed up to run the race for several years.

"We've been running together for 12 years now," Kornegay said. "No matter how hot or how cold. We've run together when it was 14 degrees outside."

Every Saturday morning the two men pair up and run about five miles, or more if they are training for a specific race. And Saturday was no different. Over the years, Best and Kornegay have run more than 40 races together, including 10 half-marathons.

After the race, many runners and observers made their way downtown to the festival to relax, and maybe even enjoy an after-race treat.

Promptly at noon, a group swarmed around the Andy's Big A Challenge stage to watch five men shovel 52-ounce hamburgers with four toppings of their choice, an order of fries and a 24-ounce drink down their throats in a matter of minutes.

Jill Nielsen, owner of Pizza Inn in Goldsboro, watched from the crowd as her former employee, Shawn "Nintendo" Casey representing Sumo Japanese Steak & Sushi, struggled to get and keep food down to the sounds of Al Yankovic's remake "Eat It" inspired by Michael Jackson's "Beat It."

"Go Shawn go!" Mrs. Nielsen yelled, her voice thundering over others in the crowd. Then, the mood changed.

"He's hitting a wall," she said. "He's gonna throw up."

Moments later as Mrs. Nielsen turned her head away from the stage to avoid the spew, Casey was disqualified. But his defeat did not lower his spirits.

"I had a blast," Casey said afterward, still wearing his kilt and his Nintendo belt. "I'm full. I'm not eating anything else for the rest of the day."

Casey trained for the competition by eating small salads twice a day, drinking plenty of water and playing his favorite Nintendo game "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"I played some last night before I went to bed," he said.

It was "Furious" Pete Czerwinski from Ontario, Canada -- last year's champ -- who took home the title and $2,000 prize once again. Remaining in his eating stance, Czerwinski scooped the crumbs from around his plate, put them in his mouth and swallowed as the clock hit 3:39.

He did not beat his record time from last year of 3:04, but was excited to come out ahead of his fierce competitor "Gentleman" Joe Menchetti of Springfield, Conn.

Czerwinski said the best part about the competition is the relaxed and well-organized atmosphere.

"It makes you want to come back," he said.

Along with Czerwinski, several the new activities might also make their way back to the festival next year.

Festival chairwoman Julie Beck said she was glad to see the response with Jo Jo the Trick Horse and Circus Stella, the husband, wife and rescued dog performance team.

Ms. Beck said a few electrical and vendor issues were resolved before 9 a.m. and the buckets for the ticket system were filling faster than anticipated. Otherwise, the festival had been smooth sailing.

"It's been great," she said. "I'm so excited about how many people came out today. I've seen a lot of Wayne County-onites.