We've all reveled at the simultaneous excitement and grossness of food eating competitions. Whether they be focused around eating 100 hot dogs or seven incredibly spicy chicken wings, eating contests are usually seen as a joke and pretty harmless.
The death of 20 year-old Caitlin Nelson, born in Clark, New Jersey, is revealing the underlying dangers of these competitions.
Police say Nelson, who was a Junior at Sacred Heart University of Conneticut and majoring in social work, passed away three days after participating in a pancake eating contest. Nelson passed away in a NYC hospital.
"It's a tragic event that started out as something fun," said Fairfield police Lt. Bob Kalamaras."It was just a tragic accident."
When Nelson started choking at the contest, two nursing students who were there immediately began lifesaving measures and were quickly joined by police officers and paramedics, Kalamaras said. She was taken to a hospital in Bridgeport in critical but stable condition and transferred on Friday to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
Thousands gathered to remember Nelson at a candlelight visual and Mass at the university on Sunday.
Nelson's father, James Nelson, was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in Manhattan. The 40-year-old was killed while trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center. His obituary said he was survived by two daughters, 11-year-old Anne and 5-year-old Caitlin.
The university is offering counseling to all their students to cope with their grief.
"The SHU community is mourning today," the school said in a statement Monday. "We ask that during this time you give Caitlin's family and the members of the SHU community privacy while they grieve."
According to her LinkedIn page, Caitlin was certified in youth mental health first aid and volunteered at the Resiliency Center of Newtown, a nonprofit group that provides free counseling and other services to people affected by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six educators.