By Luisa Navarro, CNN
NEW YORK (CNN) — The annual July 4 Coney Island hot dog eating contest is usually a “can’t-miss” spectacle, but this year’s event means something more.
It will officially signal that the home of the famous boardwalk and the “Cyclone” roller coaster in Brooklyn is back on its feet nearly nine months after Superstorm Sandy devastated many of its businesses.
“People came together in a way I have never seen before,” said George Shea, who runs the competition. “The community came together, the city, federal, state government. Coney Island is back.”
Sandy’s fury ravaged New Jersey and New York coastal areas that depend on summer visitors. The region has worked furiously to repair damage from historic winds and flooding associated with the storm.
On Thursday, the nation will mark Independence Day as Coney Island celebrates a semblance of summer normalcy.
The big concerns: a seasonal threat of rain and a last-minute inspection of the Astrotower, a treasured landmark that was said to be swaying at one point this week.
In the main event on Thursday, Joey Chestnut of San Jose, California, will be looking for a record seventh straight victory at the 98th annual hot dog chow down sponsored by Nathan’s Famous.
Chestnut ate 68 dogs and buns in 10 minutes last year.
“I’m 29 years old. I’m a little heavier than I used to be, but my doctor says I’m healthy,” Chestnut said on Wednesday.
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas of Alexandria, Virginia, is looking to defend her title in the women’s competition.
She ate 45 dogs and buns in 10 minutes last year.
Thomas has been competing for a decade and hopes to break last year’s record and eat 50 dogs.
“Forty-six, 47, 48, 49 is the same, but 50 is a totally different number, different level,” Thomas said.