Sasha Slovic, the boy wonder who chugged his way to victory at the 1968 US Milk Drinking Championship, is hanging up his cup at the end of the season. “After 45 years of drinking milk I feel like it is time to move on with my life,” said a weary but fit Slovic from his home in Cleveland, Ohio. Now 47 and married with milk drinkers of his own, Slovic contracted a rare but not serious intestinal disease in 2012 that left him lactose intolerant.
Despite the ailment, which makes him gag anytime milk reaches his stomach, Slovic managed to keep his predicament a secret until recently. “Sasha is the consummate athlete,” said trainer and personal manager, Milos Grbic who lives in Garfield Heights. “He is to competitive milk drinking what Bobby Fischer was to chess or Johnny Bench was to baseball.”
Slovic emigrated to Cleveland from Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1968. In November of that year he captivated dozens of fans at the US Milk Drinking Championship in Wooster, Ohio by consuming 6 eight-ounce bottles of whole milk in under 45 minutes. An amazing feat considering he was barely a toddler and was drinking from bottles that had nipples on them. “He was competing against people who were gulping from large open cups while he sucked milk through a nipple!” cried Grbic. Despite the disadvantage, “Sasha became a beast with brute esophagus muscles while they drank like little babies,” laughs Grbic.
The son of factory workers, Slovic learned early in life that hard work was required of him. He had his studies, his chores and his conditioning. He drank milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the other boys in the neighborhood were rotting their teeth with candy, Slovic was spending 75% of his paper route money on milk since his parents could not keep up with his demand. In 1976 he bought a subscription to Milk Illustrated so he could study the statistics of his milk-drinking heroes and learn everything there was to know about the sport of competitive milk drinking.
On his 9th birthday Slovic and his parents became US citizens. They celebrated over milkshakes at The Silver Grille downtown. By the time Slovic was 18 years old he had already won 14 US milk drinking championships. His parents were very proud of him and began plotting their son’s future. To their dismay, colleges did not consider milk-drinking a varsity sport. So he enrolled at Cleveland State and started a milk-drinking club. Sadly, he was the only participant.
Slovic went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition. Instead of going into professional work he turned pro and sought the services of Grbic. In 1989 Grbic had founded a club called the Lake Erie Lactose Lovers. They met in Collinwood six days a week to train. Slovic’s mother, Jolenta, rolls her eyes whenever she looks back on those days. “They drank lots of milk and told dirty jokes!” laughs Jolenta. She was beginning to worry if her son would ever grow out of his milk-drinking phase, which by this time had lasted much longer than most parents would ever expect.
On Sundays they competed against other teams in church halls throughout Cleveland. Slovic became team leader instantly. “All the guys really looked up to him even though he was still wet behind the ears,” joked teammate and lifelong friend, Vito “Vitamin D” Laskowski.
Slovic became somewhat of a local hero. Grocers and dairy farmers asked him to endorse their products. His jovial personality and background in nutrition made him the perfect spokesman. He met his future bride after she saw him on a local TV spot pitching free-range milk for a farmer in Garretsville. Joy Flanagan asked around and arranged for a blind date. “I’ll never forget the day I first laid eyes on her!” recalled Slovic. “She had strong bones and a healthy glow. And she liked milk almost as much as I did!”
Drinking so much milk left little time for Slovic to enjoy a social life. But Joy was an adept planner. She orchestrated the comings and goings of their social life while he focused on drinking. They got married in 1996 and started having babies. Aside from Joy insisting she breastfeed her children, they rarely quarreled. Trophies and earnings piled up. Joy stayed at home and managed the finances while raising the children.
Slovic immersed himself in competitive milk drinking for another 16 years before the illness caught up to him. These days, he sips on cranberry juice and ponders his future. “I have a lot of catching up to do.”
Slovic leans back in his chair and looks around. The walls in his den are lined with trophies and photographs that document his illustrious career. His face, beaming with pride, his stomach bloating with cranberry juice, lights up when his 3-year old daughter enters the room and runs to him.
Slovic winks at me. “Like I said, I have a lot of catching up to do.”