NEW YORK CITY — It was a big day for Mary Bowers as she took on tough competition at the 2023 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Even with the pressures that come with wanting to eat the most hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, it wasn't the contest that made her July 4th unique.
"This was my eighth run at the Pink Mustard Belt and my eighth time at Nathan's Famous at Coney Island, but it was my very first time to represent South Korea because it was important to me, I think, in terms of my own identity to reclaim the Korean pieces of myself," said Bowers.
"Pieces" the Colorado-raised competitive eater said she started to find when searching for her history back in 2020. Bowers said during the COVID-19 pandemic, she went back to visit her home country of South Korea to find out more about her time before she was adopted by a family living in Greeley.
"What I discovered was a series of human rights abuses that are quite serious. I am not crazy because there's almost 400 other people worldwide who have made similar claims," Bowers told Denver7. "The documents my parents in Colorado received indicate I was an orphan with no identifiable parents. However, when I did some digging, I found the names of two very alive people."
Bowers said it was after making those discoveries about her life that she found others with similar stories. It was then that Bowers took action, joining the Australia-United States Korean Rights Group.
The group is part of a bigger movement and petition, which is spearheading efforts to have "Korea's overseas adoption system investigated." Some of the human rights violations suspected, according to its website, are falsely identifying children as orphans despite having living parents, sending children overseas with the identity and paperwork of another child, even deceiving Korean families who do not consent to an adoption.
Part of Bower's awareness, she said, is getting the United States involved in these investigations.
"What I would like the government to see is that this is a pressing international human rights issue," she said. "This is something that not only affects human rights but international trade because we are talking about black markets and how much money moves between the legal and illegal market. We are also talking about national security."
In the push to raise awareness, Bowers told Denver7 she not only wanted to represent her home country in the July 4th hot dog eating contest but others who also have a similar story.
"The adoptees in my same group — there are 16 U.S. and Australian adoptees — and we were grouped together from the 400 based on the adoption agency we went through... so as part of my Nathan's Famous run this year, I set a goal of 16 hot dogs and buns in the ten minute time period," said Bowers.
The competitive eater came in 8th place, eating nine hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. While that was not her goal, Bowers said her work is not over.
"Join me in eating a hot dog to finish out what I started. Not just with the hot dogs, but also with signing a petition to get the U.S. Congress to act and respond to these international investigations taking place," she said.
According to the Australia-United States Korean Rights Group, in early June, all its cases were added to a Korean government-led investigation looking into all four of the country's adoption agencies. While this is a start, there is a petition calling for the United States to investigate claims of illegal and fraudulent adoptions from South Korea.
You can find more information about the petition here.