Fishers professional eater devours competition


Fishers residents may not realize an accomplished major-league eater calls the city home. With several previous wins to his credit, John Gebhard earned another at the ninth annual St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Contest Dec. 3 on Georgia Street in Indianapolis. 

A member of Major League Eating, an organization that arranges sanctioned competitive eating events, Gebhard won his head-to-head battle against fellow professional eater Andrew Kogutkiewicz of Racine, Wis. Defending champion Joey Chestnut, ranked No. 1 in the world by Major League Eating, also competed in the event and placed fourth. A Westfield resident, Chestnut is the defending Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest champion and has won that event 15 times.

Gebhard, 45, is an aerospace engineer at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis. He first dabbled in competitive eating in 2017.  

“The first (eating competition) I ever competed in was a hot dog-eating contest at Jellystone Campground at Lake Monroe,” Gebhard said. “I kind of just started doing it to see if I could. I won so easily. Like, (the competition) wasn’t even close.”

The “easy” hotdog eating competition was a catalyst for the rest of Gebhard’s Major League Eating career. Following his triumph at the competition, a co-worker suggested that Gebhard set a goal for himself to continue competing.

“A manager at work got me to take it seriously,” Gebhard said. “She’s someone who always tries to better herself with big plans and goals. She said a personal challenge for her was to climb to base camp on Mount Everest with her husband. She told me to put anything on my list as a personal challenge to complete, so I said, ‘I want to be in Major League Eating.’” 

Gebhard began his journey in 2019 following two years of competing in non-sanctioned events similar to the Lake Monroe hot dog-eating contest. He participated in competitions across the U.S., including eating tamales (the best food he’s eaten competitively, Gebhard said) in Texas but says the St. Elmo competition has “the best atmosphere.”

“It’s a great time,” Gebhard said. “I’ve competed in the last three competitions they’ve held. I plan to compete every year.”

The eating champion said he plans to continue his competitive eating career to represent his city.

“I love representing Fishers at every contest,” Gebhard said. “It makes it that much more special and encourages me to do my best. “