Sumo wrestler to swim across Idaho’s Bear Lake twice

Former world-ranked sumo wrestler Kelly Gneiting, right, wrestles with Trent Sabo in Idaho Falls in 2010. Gneiting plans to swim across Bear Lake and back on Monday. (Associated Press)
Former world-ranked sumo wrestler Kelly Gneiting, right, wrestles with Trent Sabo in Idaho Falls in 2010. Gneiting plans to swim across Bear Lake and back on Monday. (Associated Press)

POCATELLO – Kelly Gneiting has competed in the World Sumo Championships 10 times, is a five-time U.S. sumo champion, and also holds the world record for being the heaviest man to complete a marathon, which he did in 2011 at 400 pounds.

It was about two years ago when a friend set him off on his latest athletic passion, swimming, and Gneiting eventually plans to swim the English Channel, a pinnacle accomplishment for endurance swimmers.

“It was two years ago almost to the day when my good friend said, ‘Kelly, why don’t you just train and swim the English Channel for an encore?’ ” Gneiting recalled.

He’s not yet set the date on that swim, but Gneiting is planning to swim across the width of Bear Lake, not once, but twice, on Monday.

“I am going to swim to one side and then turn around and swim back to the other side,” he said.

It’s 7 miles each way, making the journey 14 miles in all. Swimming at about 1 mph, Gneiting said it will take him roughly 14 hours to complete the task. He will start at 1 a.m. on Monday, hoping to be done by 4 p.m.

Gneiting said he’s learned a lot about swimming since first starting his training roughly two years ago.

“I didn’t realize how much work swimming was,” he said. “Swimming makes your whole body incredibly strong. I am just becoming more durable each time I train.”

What he has also learned is that because of the enormous amount of calories expended during endurance swimming, he must eat and drink during the lengthy trek.

“When a 430-pound guy swims for 14 hours, I will expend between 15,000 and 20,000 calories, so I have to eat,” he said. “Based on English Channel rules, they will give me peaches, power bars and I will drink water.”

Despite a size that would lead many to believe he lacks athleticism, Gneiting has always been athletic. A wrestler, he attended what was Rick’s College at that time on a full scholarship. But when he got too heavy for even the heavyweight category, Gneiting began to look for other options.

It was about 16 years ago that he was watching sumo wrestling and thought it might just be the thing for him. He did some searching and found USA Sumo, an organized sumo wrestling association promoting the sport and hosting tournaments in the U.S.

Now retired as a professional sumo wrestler, Gneiting remains a prominent figure in the U.S. sumo wrestling scene. In fact, a gallery on the main page of the USA Sumo website,, features several pictures that include Gneiting.

Mostly a coach these days, you can still find him wrestling competitively at one event each year.

“I am retired except for the U.S. Open,” he said. “It’s probably the biggest tournament outside of Japan.”

Continuing to compete in that tournament also means garnering several sumo appearances for Gneiting throughout the year, a supplement to his income.

His next sumo appearance will be as a coach in Taiwan next weekend, when he takes 15 wrestlers, including his 16-year-old daughter, Sarena Gneiting, to the World Sumo Championships.

“She is 16 years old, she is 250 pounds, but she is built like me,” Gneiting said of his daughter. “She is very healthy, works out constantly.”

She’s also ready to compete next weekend for a world title.

A few years ago, Gneiting proved just how athletic he is when he ran a marathon. He’s completed three of them, he said, one weighing in at 425 pounds. But for the officials at the Guinness World Records, he weighed in at 400 pounds in 2011 when he completed the marathon that put him in the book.

No one has yet to beat that record, he said.

Gneiting said his swim on Monday will be done with the aid of the Bear Lake Swimming Association, which will be there to oversee his swim, provide that food and drink he’ll need, and verify the feat when completed.

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