Personal Best: For the Love of Lizard Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach 2006 - Joe LaRue, Competitive Eater
Joe LaRue has achieved renown by ingesting large quantities of food -- pancakes, corn on the cob, hamburgers, hot dogs -- better and faster than almost anyone else. He is South Florida's foremost competitive eater. To watch the six-foot-eight LaRue down Nathan's Famous at the annual hot-dog-eating contest in Coney Island (where he placed 14th last year) is a wondrous sight, a rarely viewed natural function, akin to watching a python swallow an alligator. This has absolutely nothing to do with LaRue's choice of snakes and lizards for pets (actually, living in an apartment, he couldn't have a dog or cat) or with his selection of Pet Paradise on Hiatus Road in Sunrise as his favorite mom-and-pop establishment. The friendly little pet store is where LaRue, who owns three pythons and a leopard lizard, goes to do his reptile thing. Paradise is where LaRue gets the rats to feed the pythons and the crickets and worms for the lizard. It's also where he gets knowledgeable advice from Paradise's proprietors, Robert and Patricia Kesselman. Like, what kind of heating system should you get for your python terrarium? The Kesselmans will school you. It's all for love. Reptiles can be surprisingly personable, LaRue contends. "They actually do have personalities," he says. "It's hard to find them, but they're there."