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I Have Weight on My Mind and It's About 430 Pounds

Here's how you take a fat guy and make him a Sumo Star.

Weight has been weighing on my mind recently. We are all still trying to shed the extra pounds of Christmas cookies and fruit cake (does anyone really eat that?) Ok, so I gained a few, but that’s noting compare to what I have coming up professionally. I am working developing a 20-man team whose total weight will top out at about 8500. Yep, do the math. That’s over 400 pounds per person. These are to-be Sumo wrestlers for a TV program. Think about this. Every show on TV is about losing weight. This one is about gaining weight. The question is how do you get to be that big to begin with? No, I’m not making fun of this team. I’m in awe. I have learned that the Sumo wrestlers are 500 pounds of solid muscle. The amount of exercise topped by excessive healthy eating may develop pounds, but they are pounds of steel.

In Japan, the larger the Sumo wrestler the more he is revered. Sumo is more of an art form than it is a sport. It is centuries old and is steeped in tradition ranging from the diaper-looking mawashi to salt purification. What does a Sumo wrestler eat? A lot! You have to eat a ton to get into Sumo shape. So the question is, can you take some regular overweight guys and get them into the Sumo world, According to Andrew Freund, President of Sumo USA, the answer is “yes.” And it only takes a month of dedicated, intense work to get into Sumo shape.

So Andrew and I are not just producing a TV show, we are producing a social experiment. If you are going to be a big guy, why not try to be a big, strong, healthy guy.

Hidden in that sumo world is Kelly Gneiting. Kelly is an Idaho family man who earns his living driving a truck and just happens to be a three time National Sumo Champ. As Kelly got larger and larger, he asked his athletic self just what to do with this weight thing. Sumo seemed to fit. Kelly has become the gold standard for stamina and “Just Do It.” He made it into the Guinness World Book of Record for the largest man to ever finish a marathon. At 9 hours, 48 minutes and 52 seconds, Kelly finished 4th to last in the 2011 LA Marathon. And he was thrilled. At 430 pounds, according to the LA Times, struggling mightily for the last 5 miles, he pulled it off beating his own record of 11 hours, 52 minutes and 11 seconds and beating the former weight competitor of 275 pounds. That’s 155 pounds more than the former competitor. He’s stronger now. He’s faster now. He’s more determined than ever. And everyone cheered him on. Instead of the usual abuse overweight people suffer, Kelly got out there and maybe it was his Sumo charm, but he won over the crowd.

In this country, we are brutal when it comes to overweight people. We make fun of them, we call them names, we don’t hire them thinking that if they cannot control their weights, how could they control their job. Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act to extend workplace disability protections to morbidly obese people, defined as those 100 percent or more above the healthy weight range for their height. In April and July of 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gained settlements in its first two major cases on weight-related workplace discrimination. Peggy Howell, now on the board of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, a group that promotes size acceptance for “fat people” – a term she insists upon, lost her job when she weighted 100 pounds more than her current weight having been told by her boss that her weight is an indication that her life is out of control. Make no mistake. It is a growing health hazard if not checked with a doctor and not matched with exercise to help monitor healthy heart and lungs. Some people just cannot lose weight. The point is, the world of Sumo has proven you can survive as a heavy person if you maintain your health, build strength and muscle. . According to Peggy, “I don’t consider myself disabled and some people don’t like ‘fat’ considered a disability.”

Neither does Kelly Kneiting or my 20 guys soon to be in training or our trainer, Byamba or our final round competitor Yama, the heaviest Japanese Sumo wrestler ever at 600 pounds. They are big, they are absolutely revered, and they are like running up against a rock.

So yes, I have weight on my mind. Will I train with my Sumo team and gain a few hundred? I don’t think so but will I cheer them on for their effort and fortitude and for saying just what Kelly Gneiting did? “What do I do with this weight? I’m an athlete.”

Kelly has plans for one more marathon, a Swim Across the English Channel for which he is currently in training, wants to play for an NFL team, and would like to climb from the Dead Sea to Mt. Everest. We’ll be there with all 430 pounds of him cheering him on.