Eighteen cupcakes and a one-layer cake. That’s how much Tucson’s Michelle “Cardboard Shell” Lesco ate in two minutes for her Entertainer! photo shoot.
For those of you who might be thinking, “I’d be able to do that if I starved myself all day,” keep this in mind: Lesco willingly took on our lofty photo assignment after consuming 109.6 chicken wings in 10 minutes just hours before at The Native Grill & Wings World Wing Eating Championship in Scottsdale, placing third. She was only bested by the No.1 and No.7 ranked Major League Eaters on the planet, Joey Chestnut and Adrian Morgan. She’s ranked No.8 in the world.
And we also caught her snacking as we set up our photo gear. It’s just an extra 700 calories, but who’s counting?
At 5 foot 4 inches, 110 pounds, clearly not Lesco. She might be lean and mean as she wolfs down a mass quantity of food on stage, but she’s one of the most compassionate people you’re likely to meet.
It’s an argument you hear time and time again as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest comes around every Fourth of July on Coney Island: “There are starving kids in Africa!” and of course, “What a waste of food!” Lesco tries to block the haters out as she’s stuffing the food in.
A teacher to at-risk high school students during the day and fundraiser for charitable causes during all hours, it’s tough to swallow the criticism.
“On a daily basis, restaurants waste so much more food than that—straight into dumpsters, not being consumed by anyone. If you care about food waste, that’s a much bigger fish to fry,” she says. “And on a side note, Nathan’s donates 100,000 hot dogs to local food banks as part of the contest every year. When was that last time you donated to a food bank?”
She’s raised over $10,000 for Charity Water, a non-profit that brings clean water to developing nations, through her competitive eating. She wants to use her “powers” for good, she writes on her website.
“If I were a superhero, my slogan would be ‘Cardboard Shell: Worst. Super Powers. Ever.’”
Lesco discovered her bizarre talent by chance. Six years ago, two male friends claimed they could finish the O.M.G. Burger Challenge at Lindy’s on 4th in Tucson. The burger consists of 12 beer patties, 12 slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato and buns, and upon seeing the monstrosity of cow, the dudes chickened out.
“I only ate it because I wanted them to feel like babies for not trying it,” Lesco says. “Long story short, I finished it, and basically everyone I knew started calling me every time they heard of a food contest or challenge. And that eventually led to my first Nathan’s Hot Dog Qualifier at Arizona Mills Mall.”
At her first qualifier, Lesco ate 21.5 hot dogs with buns (“HDBs” in competitive eating lingo), which won her a trip to Coney Island to compete at the real thing. Since then, Lesco has endured some serious feats of strength, including 48 Twinkies in six minutes, 5.4 pounds of turkey in 10 minutes and 10.5 pounds of boysenberry pie in eight minutes. (10.5 pounds is about 10 percent of her body weight!)
So how exactly does she stay so slim? A fast metabolism helps, but it’s not solely to thank.
“It’s ADHD. And most of my hobbies involve physical activity—snowboarding, volleyball, hashing [with the Hash House Harriers], indoor rock climbing, playing with my dog. Plus I do pull-ups, push ups and planks most mornings.”
On May 23, Lesco will take on pepperoni rolls in West Virginia, then she’ll travel to Denver, Colorado to compete in a burrito eating championship the following day.
You might think she gets sick of food, but you’d be wrong. In between her wing eating contest and our photo shoot, she and her competitive eater friends stopped for In N’ Out.
“We’re all business at the table, but most of us are also really good friends, so we tend to hang out a lot before and after contests. They’re some of the weirdest, nicest, most entertaining people I know.”