Big Man, Big Plans

Sumo Wrestler Kelly Gneiting Attempts to Swim the Santa Barbara Channel

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
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Kelly Gneiting brands himself the “Man of Fat Steel.” A five-time U.S. Sumo Champion and the Guinness World Record holder for the heaviest person to complete a marathon, the 6-foot, 420-pound hospital statistician has striven much of his life to be taken seriously as a competitive athlete. Despite his wins and records, the former Greco-Roman wrestler and football player living in Arizona said people too often dismiss him as “a slob who blew in from Fatsville, with no real drive or passion other than eating a lot and breaking chairs and toilet seats.”

This Friday, September 13, Gneiting will attempt to swim across the Santa Barbara Channel, a 12.4-mile journey from Anacapa Island to Oxnard he expects will take 12-15 hours to complete. Since 1978, there have been only 21 recorded swims from island to mainland, the last one by Tom Ball in September 2012. He did it in 7 hours 39 minutes.

Kelly Gneiting says despite his weight he has "good" blood pressure, "perfect" cholesterol, and an "exceptional" resting heart rate.
Click to enlarge photo


Kelly Gneiting says despite his weight he has “good” blood pressure, “perfect” cholesterol, and an “exceptional” resting heart rate.

Gneiting said if he succeeds, it’ll help prove what he’s always understood: “I believe I’m one of the world’s elite athletes,” he explained. “But nobody knows it.” Followed by a boatload of sumo buddies and a kayak laden with water and food, Gneiting will start the swim at 2 a.m. and perform the sidestroke through the frigid ocean waters, switching sides about every mile and a half when he gets tired.

Gneiting originally wanted to swim the English Channel, a high-profile pursuit synonymous with human strength and endurance, but found it impossible to book a boat and secure the proper insurance coverage because, as he said, no one wanted their name or company associated with a drowned fat man. He figured the shorter S.B. Channel crossing would convince the Brits to support a future English Channel swim; for this week’s endeavor, he received the endorsement of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA) and access to their insurance. The organization advises and sanctions long-distance Channel swimmers in the name of safety and proper record-keeping, and its president, Scott Zorning, has been coaching Gneiting on training routines, general prep, and the rules he must follow to make it in the books. He can’t wear a wet suit, for instance, or touch the support boat at any time.

Zorning said while his group doesn’t discriminate against swimmers’ size or body type, Gneiting’s weight was certainly a factor as they vetted the likelihood he’d finish the trip alive. And despite a common misconception to the contrary, Zorning said Gneiting’s mass may actually help him during the swim — he’ll be more buoyant and insulated from the cold water, not unlike other large marine mammals that traverse the channel every day. “I’d be more worried about a 105-pound guy,” Zorning explained. The biggest challenge facing Gneiting is the wind, Zorning continued, and because the water will be around 57 or 58 degrees, SBCSA spotters will call the whole things off if Gneiting shows the first signs of hypothermia, like slurred speech or a zig-zag path. He’ll also have to deal with stinging jellyfish and unpredictable currents. Zorning said he’s thankful a bunch of big men will be on the boat who can dead-lift Gneiting on board should something go wrong.

Gneiting, 43 years old, the father of five kids, and married for 19 years (his wife hates the idea of the Channel attempt and has asked him to double his life insurance policy), said he’s been gearing up for the crossing for about a year. His first three-mile swim in a lake left him shivering uncontrollably and so hungry that he rushed to the nearest convenience store and bought as much food as he could with all the money in his pockets. Since then, he’s worked up to 10-mile night swims every two weeks, staring up at the stars and periodically taking sips from water bottles he hangs under the bridge that spans the lake he practices in. He burns approximately 17,000 calories during each training session.

Should he make it from shore to shore, Gneiting — who said he passed a recent physical with flying colors — plans to climb Mt. Everest by 2015. He’s motivated to complete these publicized tests of mental and physical fortitude to convince the world that just because you’re big doesn’t mean you’re weak or lazy. “When people look at me, they just see fat,” Gneiting said. “They don’t see the durability factor I have — the passion, heart, and soul.”

Looking up to supersize sports icons like André the Giant and Rulon Gardner, Gneiting said it’s encouraging to train for sumo in Japan, where large guys like him are “cooler than heck,” but a letdown to return to the U.S., where “if you’re fat, you’re automatically unpopular.” So when he swims the Channel, Gneiting said, “most people won’t be able to fit that into their minds. … There will be the rare few who know how hard it was.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Look at him, he is huge, he has gotta be at least 6 foot 4.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 7:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"He burns about 17,000 calories during each training session."


Native1 (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 7:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I weighed in at 305lbs. at 6' 2", for the U.S. Marine Corp 5K in DC last year, I was First in my Height/Weight class to cross the line and an hour ahead the second person but I also practiced running six miles a day for three months with no stopping, I have High endurance and carry my weight very well; just can't get it below 275lbs., also have Low Normal blood pressure to boot!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 8:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

17,000 calories is about a week's worth for me!

I think he's got a chance given his extra buoyancy & insulation. Good luck Kelly!

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 8:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

wait until we have a good offshore wind and hell float across

blue61 (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

duo4now - you are one of the people who bust the myth that being overweight is categorically unhealthy!

It's not always the case of course, but there are a lot of larger folks who exercise, have great endurance and have above average health. Nobody ever mentions them or worse, they are dismissed as lying about their good health or abilities. So wrong....imo it's just sizeism but at the same time, also proof that everyone is individual. There is no one size fits all way of living or exercising.

Native1 (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 3:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'd love to see full blood panels on all these HUGE dudes, including dou4now. I'll bet a year's wages these guys have a nasty number lurking somewhere e.g. cholesterol, triglycerides, high PSA, something!

There's no way on this green Earth a person can be morbidly obese & be deemed "healthy." Sure, they may finish a swim, a run or "crossing the line," in a 5K, but can live past the age of 45 or 50? Can they keep up with their kids or grandkids? Can they ride a bike 25 miles? Climb stairs without passing out?

You know the answer to all these!

Barron (anonymous profile)
September 10, 2013 at 8:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Barron, Beeeeeep! Wrong, 46 yrs old, before my first cup of coffee every morning, I walk briskly 126 yards to work, up and down three flights of stairs just to get to the office, then another 100 or so yards all over the D I A Complex ( ) before the first cup of coffee and breakfast. My last cholesterol, triglycerides, high PSA tests were all under the medium of Five (5), my blood pressure is always Normal low and though the DC environment (95 degrees for a high) sucks next to Santa Barbara (71F FAIR), I still will be repeating the same brisk walk from the morning backwards to the Parking lot from the D I A, H Q.
I still walk six miles every afternoon after I return from work at the Huntley Meadows Park; On an uneven Nature Trail through the park and Yes, I will be doing it again in 95 Degree / 78% Humidity. I maybe out of breath but I don't stop until I cross the finish line!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 5:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

shark cage then? better have one>whites love fat.

Hemlockroid (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 7:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

dou4now, no doubt you and the subject of the article both have strong hearts and cardiovascular systems which is beneficial and should help increase your well being. No doubt some people are naturally larger than others. But I have to agree with Barron, body fat is not a sign of good health, it means you are eating far too many carbohydrates and this is damaging your insulin resistance and will eventually cause diabetes. High carbohydrate diets are also highly inflammatory and cause heart disease and cancer.

I eat a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet and am extremely trim (used to be very overweight some time ago, so it isn't genetics) and many of the health issues I formerly had that are caused by inflammatory diets like allergies and asthma have improved greatly. Contrary to popular belief, dietary fat does not make you fat, carbohydrates make you fat by causing insulin spikes and you convert them into body fat.

The type of fats you eat are important, though.

The best fats are from 100% grass fed/finished beef/butter, grass fed lamb, wild seafood including shellfish, wild animals like venison, bison and boar, coconut oil (vegetarian source), pastured eggs and the next best category are animals that are fed grains but at least have access to outdoors to forage and eat grass. I call them pastured animals, a lot better than nothing.

This should be eaten in combination with a lot of fresh veggies and some fresh fruit including fresh non-pasteurized fruit juice. Avoid grains as much as possible. Avoid legumes - I might throw a few beans in my tri-tip chili but they should be used sparingly and not very often.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 11:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I wake up and put a couple tablespoons of 100% grass-fed butter in my coffee and whip it up, along with some MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) that comes from coconut oil. Then I'll have a few eggs and either some pastured bacon or grass fed steak/ground beef. I really try to make my breakfast as high fat and low carb as possible - I've found that I can eat carbs later in the day if I have to and they don't have the negative effects that they do if you eat them in the morning. But optimally, especially if you're trying to lose weight, you should try and avoid carbs as much as possible. You can get a double cheeseburger with bacon and avocado at the habit in a lettuce wrap - if you HAVE to get fries go with sweet potato - sweet potatoes and yams actually have a better glycemic index than regular potatoes, meaning they won't spike your blood sugar as much. But if you get the sweet potato fries they are still starchy, so try and make that your only starch for the whole day.

If you are on a budget - trader joe's has frozen 100% grass fed beef from New Zealand, reasonably priced pastured meats, coconut oil, 100% grass fed irish butter. Good high fat diets tend to be a little on the expensive side... grains are cheap.

If you can afford it, try and get as much of your food locally as possible - your veggies should be mostly all local. You can get 100% grass fed ground beef and many other cuts at farmer's market and the ground beef is local and only slightly more expensive than TJ's.

Lazy Acres has a fantastic meat section - Whole Foods is ok.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 11:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I wonder whether there's an ounce of humility buried beneath the 400 pounds of blubber.

SezMe (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 12:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)


imdunn (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 12:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

good luck man....12 plus hours in that water will be brutal.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 1:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"I wake up and put a couple tablespoons of 100% grass-fed butter in my coffee and whip it up . . ."

Because this is somehow healthy? Eventually you'll find high-fat, high-protein diets like Atkins (or whatever you call yours) derived from animal sources will lead to heart disease. Pushing that crap through your veins, whether it's absorbed by your body or otherwise, puts a strain on your heart and arteries.

Try drinking your coffee black. That would be healthy(er).

sbdude (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 3:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

sbdude, you must not have read the rest of my post, the information you are posting is totally incorrect. First, I don't eat a high protein diet, I eat a high fat, moderate protein low carb diet. I don't practice the Atkin's diet, Atkins diet only accounted for weight loss and not for overall long-term health because it did not account for the type of fat intake.

Eating grains is highly inflammatory and causes heart attacks and will make you fat over time depending on your insulin resistance. EATING ANIMALS WHO EAT NOTHING BUT GRAINS AND SOY IS ALSO INFLAMMATORY AND CAUSES HEART ATTACKS. Thus, in modern society where we follow a food pyramid with grains playing the biggest role, and grain fed meat also playing a large role we see a lot of heart disease.

Eating animals who eat what they would naturally eat in the wild is healthy, like grass fed cattle, bison, venison, wild seafood, etc.

There is a lot of new information on fat and cholesterol out there.

Fat = Prolonged energy
Protein = Body/muscle recovery/repair
Carbs = Insulin/blood sugar spike, short term energy, fat production

loonpt (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Barron - Anyone, at any size, can have those types of issues in the blood work or lipid panel. But sometimes, obesity isn't the culprit for disease it's more dependent on how you got that obesity. In other words, someone who eats a lot of food without refined and processed carbohydrates and sugar is likely going to have a better bloodwork report than someone who is even moderately overweight and eats sugar and donuts.

Mix in exercise and that will also make a huge difference to how healthy "on paper" someone is.

We've all heard the stories about thin, seemingly fit people who have heart attacks when their blood work is stellar. So why can't a fit but fat person be a real life thing, too?

There is so much more to medicine and health science than how much a person weighs.

Native1 (anonymous profile)
September 13, 2013 at 4:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

how did the channel swim go?

lawdy (anonymous profile)
September 17, 2013 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Read on Edhat it was postponed due to treacherous ocean conditions.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
September 17, 2013 at 9:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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