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Former Army officer seeks glory in famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest

A former Army officer will go up against 19 other men — including the legendary Joey Chestnut — in the 2017 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest this Fourth of July at New York City’s Coney Island.

"Buffalo" Jim Reeves, 48, earned his spot in Tuesday's contest by eating 23 hot dogs. Chestnut, the defending champion, downed a whopping 70 hot dogs to win the 2016 contest and set a new contest record.

Watch the festivities on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. The women's contest begins at 11 a.m. Eastern time, and the men's event kicks off at noon.

Reeves commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after completing ROTC at Clarkson University in 1990. He missed Operation Desert Storm because he was attending the Engineer Officers' Basic Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Reeves said.

An Army Reserve officer, Reeves served as a platoon leader and later as an acting company commander before he left for a job as a battalion personnel officer. His last assignment in the Army was as a civil engineering officer, Reeves said. He transferred to the Inactive Reserve in 1996 before separating from the military two years later.

For the last 10 years, Reeves has been a math and computer science teacher at Gowanda High School in New York.

A resident of Boston, New York, just outside of Buffalo, Reeves began his competitive eating career at the 2002 National Buffalo Wing Festival. After becoming a finalist in his first eating competition, Reeves realized he had a knack for the sport.

"There’s no big secret to competitive eating," he said. "You try your hardest and you’re either good or you’re not. I happened to be good."

This will be Reeves’ fourth Nathan's Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. In that time, he has mastered his technique of eating two hot dogs at a time.

The trick is to eat the hot dogs separate from the buns, while dipping the buns in water, Reeves said.

"If you do it right, you’re essentially washing down the hot dogs with the buns," he said.

Dipping the buns in water is a popular method for contestants in the Fourth of July classic, with the water helping to make the buns go down while also preventing the contestant from choking.

"It’s kind of like Thanksgiving except you have 10 minutes instead of an hour and a half," Reeves said when asked about what the post-competition recovery is like.

In his qualifier for the contest, Reeves crushed 23 hot dogs, but while that might seem like a lot to most, Reeves anticipates the leaders of the pack to break 50. The current world record is held by Chestnut, who consumed 70 hot dogs last year.

In addition to hot dogs and buffalo wings, Reeves has participated in competitions involving a wide range of food — including burgers, jalapeños, poutine, noodles, pork rinds and fruit cake.

Additionally, Reeves is the current world record holder for watermelon eating, consuming 13.22 pounds of watermelon at the Brookville Community Picnic in Ohio in 2005.

Reeves is ranked 21st in the world among competitive eaters by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

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