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Fundraising, one waffle at a time

It started as a bet between two guys sitting at Waffle House one night.

Kevin Cole thought there was no way his friend John McHugh could only eat Waffle House breakfast for two straight weeks. McHugh, fueled by his love for bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches and a strong appetite, took up the challenge.

Somewhere along the way, the bet became a fundraiser, and by the time McHugh's last waffle was consumed, almost $1,700 had been raised for Special Olympics programs.

McHugh, a second-year student at the Fuqua School of Business, finished up his two-week breakfast-only diet Tuesday evening before a celebratory crowd of several dozen friends and well-wishers at the Waffle House on Hillsborough Road. He said that despite his love for the food, completing the challenge was more difficult than he had expected.

"I think the hardest thing was that there was a clause in the bet that I had to eat bacon for every meal," McHugh said, adding that some of his lowest moments were spent sitting at the counter watching meals being cooked. He estimated the degree of difficulty of his feat to be a "seven or eight" out of 10.

Freeway Foods, Inc., which owns and operates a number of Waffle Houses in central North Carolina, took care of the cost of all McHugh's food. Gary Fly, president of Freeway Foods, said the decision to sponsor McHugh was a natural choice given the student's obvious affinity for Waffle House food and the charitable cause.

"When you see the work they're doing with special needs kids and the excitement it brings to them, its a worthwhile cause," Fly said.

Cole and McHugh conducted the fundraising effort through an organization known as MBA Games, which sponsors an annual athletic games event involving business students and mentally retarded children. MBA Games, the largest extracurricular organization in Fuqua, is also a major supporter to the Special Olympics of North Carolina.

Cole, also a second-year business student, said McHugh's Waffle House diet was the most successful MBA Games fundraising event in recent memory. It was so popular, in fact, that several students have volunteered to attempt the same feat, and there has even been discussion of making it an annual event.

Not everyone hailed McHugh's choice of restaurant, but all those in attendance Tuesday praised his devotion to the Special Olympics. "I think it's disgusting, but it shows his commitment to our cause," said Megan Robinson, a second year business student and a member of the MBA Games executive board.

McHugh said he ate about two meals a day at Waffle House and was allowed to drink beverages of his choosing outside the restaurant except SlimFast or other similar protein shakes. He was also banned from taking vitamin supplements. Despite his diet's dubious nutritional value, McHugh said he felt healthy and had actually lost weight.

At Tuesday's celebratory final dinner, he sported an employee's name tag but demurred when asked if he was considered a regular. "The staff there recognized me, but there's a crowd of regulars that've been there a lot longer than two weeks, so I didn't really break into that group," he said.

Would he take his Waffle House dedication to the next level? "Maybe," he said, "after a little time off."

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