Hot ‘Daze’ in Gypsum
Anyone who has swallowed a goldfish or smashed a beer can on their forehead for money would fit right in at the Gypsum Daze Jalapeno Eating Contest.In a crowd-pleasing combination of American excess, self-mutilation and the inexplicable glee that comes from watching others suffer, contestants in three divisions sweated, gagged, grimaced and cried their way to glory and cash prizes at a favorite Gypsum Daze event Saturday in Town Hall Park.”I came just to see how crazy these guys are,” said Dan Vegil, 42, of Gypsum. “They must enjoy pain.”In each division, contestants were allowed a coach who kept count of jalapenos eaten, wiped eyes and provided beverages and encouragement. The children’s and women’s division ate pickled peppers, while the men ate spicier fresh jalapenos.A crowd of more than 100 swarmed around the tables to view the 15 contestants of the children’s division, where winner Julio Garcia, 11, won the first place prize of $75 for eating 25 punishing peppers.Garcia said the peppers burned “like fire” and made him cry, but the new bike he plans to buy with his prize money will be worth the pain. Twelve-year-old children’s division second-place finisher Aaron Ezell accepted his $25 prize wearing sunglasses to conceal his red eyes. His jalapeno success runs in the family. Ezell’s grandfather, Karl Howard, 55, ate 18 peppers to win first-place in the men’s division.Howard’s slow and steady strategy beat out eight other participants, including second-place finisher and Gypsum firefighter Joaquin Garcia, 25, who began the contest eating fistfuls of peppers with raucous support from other firefighters. Howard apparently practices stomaching spices. “I make my own hot sauce at home and people say it’s pretty hot – I drink it from the bottle,” said Howard, sweating and grinning after his win. “I just ate slow and enjoyed it.”Last year Howard took second-place, and the year before he took first.Niki Dondero, a homemaker in Gypsum, ate 23 peppers for her second first-place win against six other participants. Dondero took first-place last year too.”I save up for it each year -I only eat them here,” said Dondero, still shaking from the experience.Participants brought water, milk and even peanut butter and Frappucinos in attempts to soothe their burning mouths, but no one appeared completely comfortable with the pain.”What else do you do at Gypsum Daze?” said Paul Taylor, 36, of Gypsum. “It’s fascinating to see what people will do for two hundred dollars.”Other events and activities did occur at Gypsum Daze, among them a car show, 5K run and walk, parade, turkey shoot, and live music. Country band Heather and Blacksmith played a free show for post-jalapeno Eating Contest spectators, and country star Clay Walker, who has had a dozen No. 1 singles, headlined the evening show.Vendor Lee Kelpner, 32, a former Gypsum resident, came to Gypsum Daze for the third year with his company LJ Custom Hats and Bands. “I have a lot of fun here,” he said. “We always do well here.”Gypsum residents Bobby and JoAnne Rivera, who said they came to see the car show and taste the food, were at the event for the first time.”I think they’ve done a good job keeping it small with a hometown feeling,” said JoAnne Rivera. “And I like the weather, too. It’s nice to walk around without sweating so much.” That applies, of course, only to those who didn’t eat unnatural quantities of jalapeno peppers.