This past Monday, Nov. 8, at 9 p.m., Jake “Stony” McVeigh ’11 participated in the 2010 Eggnog Challenge at Entropy House. McVeigh tried, and ultimately failed, to drink one gallon of non-alcoholic eggnog in an hour.
McVeigh’s challenge calls to mind a similar attempted feat last year, in which he managed to drink exactly half a gallon of eggnog before vomiting up the entire contents of his stomach. Johnny Buse ’11, McVeigh’s housemate and hype man, explained the origins of the event: “Our first year, Stony told me he could drink a gallon of eggnog. I told him he was full of [expletive deleted] and bet 15 dollars on it. Two years later, I got my money back.”
Despite the spirit-crushing failure of his first attempt, McVeigh learned from his mistakes and approached Monday’s competition optimistically. “I would say I was a little naïve. I overestimated my capabilities and wasn’t sure how I’d react to half a gallon of eggnog,” McVeigh said. “I’ve been training ever since that defeat.”
“He has a new strategy this year,” said housemate A.J. Anderson ’11 in the tense minutes leading up to the ordeal.
For one, McVeigh had assembled a skilled support team.
“Joey [Wendel ’11], Johnny, and A.J. are my dietitian, manager and personal trainer. Not necessarily in that order,” McVeigh said.
“Jake, what’s the strategy for today?” asked Ryan Fletcher ’11, a football teammate of McVeigh’s. “10, 15, 20, finish,” he replied. That is, the first quart in ten minutes, the next in 15, the next in 20, and the final quart down-in-one.
McVeigh had not yet eaten that day, and he looked hungry. He sat in the living room of 602 5th Ave., a.k.a. Entropy House, dressed for comfort in gray sweatpants and a teal shirt. Hanging on the wall was an official-looking poster of McVeigh in football uniform, with his number 74.
Before the start of the competition, Buse went over the rules—McVeigh had one hour to drink (and hold down) one gallon of thick, delicious eggnog from a pint measuring cup. “In case of vomit, feel free to watch,” Buse instructed the crowd of more than 20, which included students from all four class years as well as Grinnell alumni.
As Buse introduced McVeigh, Dylan Naylor ’13 held up a placard of eggnog’s nutrition facts. One gallon of Anderson-Erickson eggnog contains 224 grams of saturated fat (1,120% daily value), 930 grams of sugar (384% daily value), 192 grams of protein and 8,000 calories.
The audience rose for the national anthem, and, overcoming brief confusion at the lack of a flag to face, broke into a group sing-along. At 9:20 p.m., Buse called out, “Drink nog!” McVeigh touched the rim of the glass to his moustache and the clock started.
Spectators differed in opinion as to whether McVeigh would succeed. Naylor expected victory, saying, “I’m ready for the eggnog championship to come home to Entropy House.”
Echoing that sentiment was Cole Unger ’13. “Of course [McVeigh’s] going to make it,” Unger said. “He’s hashed out a high-level strategy, he’s a [expletive deleted] tank, has the heart of a horse and magnificent hair.”
Others remained skeptical. “I talked to my lab professor [Mark Levandoski, Chemistry]. He said it’s not possible,” said Angela Cao ’11. Augustus Karisch ’11 agreed, “I guarantee he won’t make it. I think it can’t be done.”
Some audience members postulated their own strategies.,
“What’s going to get him is not necessarily the amount, but the basic [versus acidic] content of the eggnog,” said Vicky Diedrichs ’11. Just moment later, as if in response, McVeigh unwrapped and swallowed a Lactaid pill.
James Anthofer ’11 offered another alternative. “You need to have a lot of lettuce for breakfast,” he said. “For me, the beauty of the lettuce strategy is the expansion, and the water in the lettuce.”
Soon, McVeigh was sucking the final drops from his first carton. Six and a half minutes in, he was one quarter of the way to his goal, but the true test of his endurance was still to come.
Whenever McVeigh downed a quart carton, Phil Hagen ’10 tested its emptiness, numbered it, and moved it to the side. “This is why America exists,” Hagen said of the challenge. Buse appeared equally giddy. “I kind of want the cops to come over tonight, so they ask what’s going on here,” he said, pointing to the police station across the street.
Directly behind McVeigh, his football teammates cheered him on, keeping him on a steady pace and offering words of encouragement. “I feel a little full, and I have a tiny bit of a headache,” McVeigh said after 23 minutes. But he soon soldiered on, once again raising the ivory-hued glass to his lips.
Partway through the third carton of eggnog, 40 minutes in, McVeigh was visibly struggling to continue. He hunched silently in his chair with a pained look, intent on observing rather than consuming the volume of eggnog still before him. “It’s time to get out of the splash zone,” Anderson said.
I asked McVeigh how he felt. “Not well,” he replied. After a moment, though, he picked up the cup again and drank. A minute after that, and 43 minutes after the whole ordeal began, McVeigh picked up the blue bucket at his side and regurgitated two and a half quarts of eggnog.
As their hero retched, the crowd exhorted him to “Rally!” and “Keep going!” McVeigh took a few final symbolic sips of eggnog, then passed the cup to Buse, formally surrendering the challenge.
In the immediate aftermath of his loss, McVeigh reflected on his performance with mixed feelings. “I would’ve liked to finish. I’m happy that I surpassed last year’s mark, but I’m a competitive person,” he said.
McVeigh emphasized both the importance of proper preparation and the difficulty of the task. “I’ve broken so many bones. I’ve had lots of torn ligaments, limbs in casts, but this is one of the most physically painful things I’ve done to myself,” he said. “I’m a little happy I did throw up, because I felt like I was going into shock.”
“How many times do you have to do this before you stop liking eggnog?” asked Unger.
“I don’t know,” a defeated McVeigh replied.
Despite McVeigh’s defeat to the gallon of eggnog, his noble effort managed to inspire a wide swath of Grinnellians. “That was a sight to behold. It was a testament to mankind and to the power of the human spirit,” said Quinn Underriner ’14.
“I want to be the butter to Stony’s biscuit,” agreed Casey Judson ’14. “As a first-year, this is what I aspire to.”
McVeigh’s previous losses have not fazed the contender, either. “There will be another, one year from now,” McVeigh assured. Whether or not he conquers the eggnog at that time, his performance promises to once again inspire and entertain.