Kyle "the Hammer" Hanner likes competing.
He was a wrestler at Wood River-East Alton High School and McKendree University.
Now, the 24-year-old is a competitive eater. It's a sport of sorts, in which participants consume large quantities of food in a short time.
He's won big in bratwurst, meatballs, fruitcake, french fries and hot wings. Recently, he tackled pancakes, coming in second Feb 1 in IHOP's St. Louis area regional contest.
Leading up to the finals, Kyle showed up at the IHOP in Clayton where he was in third place on the leaderboard behind Michael "Big Mike" Jones and P.J. "Giant Spaghetti Monster" Brennan, who had downed 23 and 21 respectively.
"If you are the leader at the end of the challenge, you get free pancakes for a year," said Kyle, who works part-time in marketing for the St. Louis Rams and part-time at QuickTrip. He grew up in Wood River and now lives in St. Louis.
"I did 25 at the Wood River location Saturday. I was here a couple weeks ago on a Tuesday."
He ate 19.
The first three plates arrived, five to a stack. Kyle picked up a stack at a time and fanned them.
"I try to cool them off a bit," he said, setting up his iPhone. He records and posts his efforts for his Facebook page. "You don't want them all the way cold."
The women across the aisle watched.
"Are you really going to eat all those?" said Mary Ann Roos, 60, her eyes widening. "That's great. ... "Now, you are going to put some syrup on those, aren't you?"
No. Kyle drinks water alongside.
"How come I can't get away with eating these and staying slim? I gain weight looking at these things. Are you an athlete?"
"I basically wrestled my whole life," said Kyle, who's a lean 6-foot-1. "I wrestled in college. I have eating strategies."
Kyle ate, drank water and conversed. Soon, 21 pancakes had disappeared. The last five took longer. He stood, stretched, sat down and picked up the next set. The last one was the biggest challenge.
That day, he ate 26.
"I'm pretty full. It took me 8 minutes to finish that last pancake," he said. "Afterward, I'm slow to get home. I kind of stumble in and plop on the couch. After an hour, I get up and do something,"
The women promised to follow him on the Internet.
"You should be able to find me," he said. "Just search Kyle the Hammer. I have just started. It's just the beginning."
Kyle hopes the number of likes he receives on Facebook will boost his profile among competitive eaters and sponsors.
"People are entertained and amazed by competitive eating," he said. "Whenever they televise it, people are into it. I feel like it's a growing sport."
He figures he has a knack for what it takes.
"I'm used to eating fast. A lot of times, it's me being late to do things. I need to scarf something down. I just eat faster than the average human."
Last July, Kyle competed in a corndog-eating contest in Sacramento, Calif. The $6,500 prize drew professionals.
He looks for upcoming events on the International Federation of Competitive Eating website and at eatfeats.com.
"It was the first contest experience where there were competitive eaters who I follow online," he said. "The winner ate 18. I only ate 11."
Kyle won a meatball-eating contest during the 2013 Columbus Day Festival on The Hill in St. Louis.
"I ate 32 in five minutes. I won a 40-inch TV. I uploaded it on YouTube."
Do you have a technique? "You constantly want to take in lots of liquids to wash it down quickly. Without water, you will chew for days. ... Throwing up is frowned upon in the competitive eating world. It disqualifies you."
Do you worry about your weight? "My wrestling weight was 174 pounds. Now, I'm at 195, give or take 10 pounds. It fluctuates. Within a week, I can go from 185 to 205. What the scale says is nothing to me anymore. I try to avoid getting fat. After college I stopped wrestling. I started getting a little fat and picked (exercising) back up. I run a couple times a week."
Which is harder, wrestling or competitive eating? "Both are fairly tough, mentally and physically. The toughest would have to be wrestling. You have to manage your weight with both ....Wrestling, you're up against someone all the time."
Do you have any competitive eating goals? "One of (my) goals, is to do Nathan's hot dog contest (at Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the 2013 contest, Joey Chestnut won his seventh consecutive title by consuming a record-setting 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes). It will take more training. ... You have to win a qualifier."
Do you have a favorite food? "I am not that picky. Since I was little, I have liked crab legs. I am good at getting the meat out quickly."
What's fun about being in a contest? "The reaction of the crowd. Everyone seems to love it, and some seem to hate it at the same time. I am really big on observing people's reactions. I am a big people watcher. You can say it gives me an adrenaline rush, competing on a high level. I have been a pretty good athlete. I am at the top of any competition I do."
How do people react when you tell them you've won an eating contest? "Disbelief. 'Sure you did.' 'Huh? You're crazy.'"
To see Kyle in action, go to youtube.com/user/kylethehammerhanner