Junior Jack Zapata knows how to persevere in a way not many people have had the experience to do. 

“You hit a wall. And at that point, it’s just mind over matter,” Zapata said. “You chew, and you eat and you chew and pray for the best. And at the end of the day, it’s to raise money for charity.” 

Every day for 40 days, Zapata is eating a whole rotisserie chicken to raise funds and awareness for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots mental health organization that provides education, advocacy and support for people with mental illnesses. 

Zapata’s goal is to raise $100,000 for NAMI, $10,000 of which he has raised as of Oct. 20, when Zapata hosted a chicken eating contest with university President Connie Book and student government president senior Britt Mobley.

At the event — his 28th day of chicken eating — Book won the contest by donating $100 to $200 for every piece of chicken eaten by an attendee, donating a total of $1,500.

Book said she was happy to support a cause such as NAMI because of its mission and Zapata’s unique approach to fundraising.

“I love to see Elon students really put themselves out there on things like that,” Book said.

She said Zapata’s approach to fundraising is successful because it engages the community. 

“It’s a really nice way to engage people,” Book said. “People are generally charitable, but when you attach something that is community building at the same time, that they could cheer behind — I just thought it was a really creative approach.”

While Zapata said he does not have any personal history with mental illness, he said he is happy to support NAMI.

“It’s a really amazing program, a great charity that does so much for those with mental illness,” Zapata said. “It’s really an honor to be able to help support them.”

On Zapata’s ninth day of eating the rotisserie chicken, which landed over family weekend, he set a personal record of six minutes and five seconds. 

“A lot of dads and moms, they’ve never seen something like this in their life,” Zapata said. “And a lot of people were just shocked. Just this look of awe on their faces. It was amazing.”

Zapata said his own parents have been supportive, but they are concerned about his overall health.

“My parents — about 10 days in — they wanted me to go get a blood test. But I told them it’s OK,” Zapata said. 

He said he uses sauce and sweet tea with every chicken and only besides his daily chicken, eats only berries and broccoli besides his daily chicken intake.

He said he has learned how to best eat a rotisserie chicken through trial and error.

“You got to get it at the right time. Preferably, I go to Harris Teeter around 2:30 when I’m out of class to get the chicken because the chickens are sitting on the heating vent all day,” Zapata said. “You don’t want them to run out.”

He said he has received excitement from the community. 

“At first I couldn’t tell what the reaction was,” Zapata said. “I knew people were excited about it, but I couldn’t tell for what reason whether they were grossed out by it or super excited about it, just hyped up to see someone house a whole rotisserie chicken.”

Zapata has also teamed up with Elon Greek life including Tri Delta and Tri Sigma sororities for other contests — though he lost against Tri Sigma. 

“I’m just actually so grateful for the amazing turnouts that have been and continue to be,” Zapata said. “I lost against Tri Sigma. That was a tough loss, we came back —  turned it around with Delta to clench up on a three v. one.”

Zapata said he is thankful for the opportunity to raise money for NAMI.

“I’m just really grateful for the opportunities that have presented themselves,” Zapata said. “I’m so grateful for all the support and the engagement within the community. And this team effort to raise money for an amazing cause.”