Kristen "K-Nasty" Soinski took one last look at the half-eaten pickle in her right hand and fanned her face with her left.
Soinski, a junior studying psychology, had tied for the 2018 Pickle Fest lead seconds earlier after shoving her ninth pickle into her mouth with only five seconds left. As her neighboring contestant puked into a bucket, Soinski — who participated in the fourth and final heat of the contest — used both hands to cram the tenth and winning pickle into her mouth.
Her title was sealed when she flashed peace signs with both hands and revealed the pickle was entirely eaten.
"I just can't believe I ate 10 pickles," Soinski, who works for Randy's Pickles in Cleveland, said. "I was like, 'There's absolutely no way I'm going to get nine,' but then I got 10, so I was like, 'Oh, hell yes.' "
Soinski's buzzer-beating, pickle-shoving moment capped off Bagel Street Deli's annual pickle-eating charity contest Friday. Each year's winner determines the name and look of a new sandwich for the deli and donates the contest's proceeds to a charity of their choice. The total amount is doubled by Bagel Street Deli before the donation is made.
Pickle Fest raised about $500 this year, Megan McElligott-Meyer, owner of Bagel Street Deli, said.
"It was really big this year," she said.
Compared to other years, 2018 Pickle Fest had bigger hype.
"I don't know why anyone would do this," McElligott-Meyer said.
For nearly two hours, the tiny confines of Bagel Street Deli showcased 35 daring contestants attempting to devour as many dill pickles as possible without vomiting, or "making relish," which leads to a disqualification. The contest was split four heats.
Some of the contestants practiced before the competition, such as Jerod "Guardian Alien" Black. Wearing a visor and arguably the most determined look of any contestant, Black, 41, emerged from the first heat as the leader after eating eight pickles.
Black said he drank pickle juice with tequila shots in preparation for the contest. His training was just enough to last the contest's 10 minutes, which he primarily spent in a stare-down with his closest competitor across the table.
But his performance didn't come without a price.
"I had to eat my own puke twice, but I did it," Black said, sweat dripping down his forehead. "I puked in my mouth, but I kept it down. That's all that matters. Swallow some water, and you're good to go."
Each contestant had their own group of supporters packed into the sliver of bricks of 27 S. Court St. As juices — and a few instances of relish — flowed from the mouths of the contestants seated along the stretch of tables, the mob that surrounded them drowned out the emcees that attempted to narrate the madness in front of them.
One of the loudest and most outlandish of the contestants was Stuart "Pickle Rick" Brenkus, who sported a white headband, eye black and a grey tank top.
Brenkus, who needed a couple dosages of Tums antacid during his heat, was accompanied by "part-time pickle coach" Austin Cull. Dressed in a suit and a pair of sunglasses, Cull, 22, stood in front of Brenkus, 21, and shouted above the onlookers to encourage Brenkus that he would finish atop his competition.
Brenkus finished second in heat three, finishing seven pickles.
"He ate a little too much for breakfast," Cull said. "I'd like to think that the motivation from his teammates and his friends were most important in the moment. Pickles are our life. Today, Brenkus is part pickle."
But without a rambunctious coach and no training beforehand, it will be Soinski who names a sandwich and has a lifelong story to tell.
"I love pickles," Soinski said.