It took less than two minutes for the Okra Strut’s reigning okra-eating kids’ champion to win back his title Saturday, but not without some stiff competition.
But Irmo’s 10-year-old Mitchel Kolok had the winning strategy, once again.
“Grab a handful, stuff it in my mouth, and while I’m still chewing, stuff more in my mouth,” Mitchel said. “I’m usually a pretty fast eater anyway.”
Irmo’s 42nd annual Okra Strut festival, despite a rainy weekend, was expected to draw thousands of guests Friday night and Saturday, as it typically does. Though it has faced financial struggles in recent years, the festival remains a popular one in the Midlands.
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“(Irmo has) got to be known for something, I guess,” said Matthew Kolok, Mitchel’s father.
It might as well be okra, right?
At the festival, there was, of course, Okra Man, the giant inflatable Okra Strut mascot.
And then there was the dressed-in-okra man, Dwayne Schumpert.
For more than a dozen years, Schumpert, of Irmo, has embraced the okra spirit by letting himself be embraced by okra. From his okra-studded hat, to his draping necklaces and cuffed bracelets strung with okra, Schumpert stands out each year among the Okra Strut crowd.
In fact, Schumpert stands out at most festivals he attends, where he always dresses to match the theme. Just last weekend at a shrimp-and-grits-themed festival in Charleston, Schumpert crafted himself a hat topped with a bowl and spoon and strung with dangling pictures of shrimp.
“I try to honor the festivals,” Schumpert said.
He draws a good bit of attention every year at the Okra Strut, with people often stopping him and asking to take photos with him.
“I’ve heard a little bit of everything” when people see him, Schumpert said. “I’ve heard ‘Oh, my god!’ a few times. But I’m no god. Just a mortal person who wears okra.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.