Brenda Smith arrived for the chitterling eating contest in top form. She was lean. She was mean. She was hungry.
"I had eaten some Popeye's chicken the night before, but that was it," said Smith. Then she took a deep breath, lowered her head to the edge of a bucket of chitterlings and held her fork like a dagger until the referee said eat it.
Five minutes later, Smith, a 30-year-old resident of the Barry Farms Dwellings in Southeast Washington, emerged as the winner of the Union Temple Baptist Church Chitterling Eating Contest, having guzzled down more than two pounds of hog guts in a display that qualified her as Guinness Book of Records World Champion.
Speechless, breathless, her head pounding and her stomach churning, Smith had to be hoisted onto the stage to receive her award -- a coupon for 50 pounds of chitterlings and a case of Coca-Cola.
"I thought I was going to die," said Smith. "I felt like chitterlings were in my head. My blood pressure had shot up so high I had to call on Jesus to help me."
About 15,000 people showed up for the fourth annual Chitterling Strut, which was held last week at the church at 14th and U streets SE. More than 25 cooks had scraped, washed and boiled 1,500 pounds of chitterlings.
For the uninitiated, chitterlings taste like, well, pigs' intestines as opposed to pigs' feet, pigs' ears, pigs' tails, or pigs' head.
"There is no way to describe them," said Virginia Williams, the church coordinator of cooks for the contest. "We fix ours with celery, onions, loving care, pepper and prayer."
Another key ingredient is a special seasoning, but Dot Myles, head chef, would not reveal the secret recipe.
Not even Brenda Smith could say what it was.
"All I know is that those were some of the best chitterlings I ever ate," she said. "They were tender and juicy with a real nice spice that made them taste like -- like chitterlings."
Before the contest, the Union Temple church congregation had been divided on the issue of holding a contest that encouraged the consumption of pork, which has been linked to medical complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Although some younger members who are vegetarians complained, the die-hard pork lovers prevailed, using historical precedent to make their case.
"In terms of our basic ethnicity, chicken and pork are a part of our heritage, a symbol of our survival," said Lawrence Money, the church social services coordinator. "There are very few of us who have not eaten pork. So just because some people move to a level of awareness where they no longer want it, that is no reason to ridicule others who do."
Brenda Smith didn't care whether people ridiculed her or not. She had come to eat. Besides, she had been preparing for such a contest since she was a girl growing up in Loris, S.C.
"I used to be in eating contests all the time at the county fair," she said. "I ate pies, cakes, potato salad and chicken. My mother says she would rather pay my rent and buy my clothes than feed me."
Smith went to the contest with her best friend, Dorothy Ruth, who had planned to enter the church "speed talking" contest. Whoever could repeat "chittling strut, chicken stroll," the most times in one minute would be declared the winner.
Ruth lost the contest, but complained that she had repeated the phrase 15 times, compared to 13 times by the person who won. She was hurt. Smith got mad.
"Ruth and I are a team. We represent Barry Farms and we had told everybody that we were going to bring fame to the Farms," Smith said. "I asked Dorothy to join me in the eating contest, but she was too disappointed so I told her, 'Don't worry. I will eat enough for both of us.'"
And that's just what she did.