400 Pound Athlete

You may have already heard about Kelly Gneiting.  He is a 400 pound trained sumo wrestler who just finished his second LA marathon in 9 hours, 48 minutes.  This was an improvement of more than 2 hours over his previous time. And it was no ordinary marathon – according to reports it was extremely cold and the rain has been described by some of the participants as “torrential”.

I was searching for stories about him today, and I came upon a runners forum discussion about him (WARNING:  reading this may make you want to reach for the brain bleach).  Maybe I’m naive, but I was honestly shocked to find the comments largely unsupportive.  Since I have a rule about not seeking out people who disagree with me and commenting on their blogs, I thought I’d respond here:

“At his size, this just doesn’t seem like any activity is healthy.”

You have to love a lose/lose scenario.  “I think you’re too fat, but I don’t believe that you should move your body because of your epic fatness”.  Seriously?  To me this always sounds a whole lot like “I like feeling superior to fat people, so stay where you are fatty and I’ll keep putting you down to make myself feel better”.

“I guess it’s hard for me to comprehend how a body in that shape could PHYSICALLY handle the stress when it has to deal with the stress of keeping his body going on a normal day.” and “is running in that poor of physical condition dangerous?”

You don’t know what shape he is in.  You only know how much he weighs.  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.  Since you’re writing this comment after the marathon, you could certainly have chosen to respect the fact that he is an athlete of the same caliber as anyone who finishes a marathon.

“At 405 lbs he probably has a very difficult time just walking”

Not that difficult – since he just jogged and walked 26.2 miles. The truth is right in front of you, how are you missing it? Please re-evaluate your assumptions.

“The energy expended in his bid to have others qualify/validate him would be better spent improving his circumstances and his physical health.”

He ran a freaking marathon – why do you think that you should judge his circumstances or health?  Also, let’s be clear – I won’t speak for other fat athletes but when I use my platform to point out that I don’t fit your stereotypes, it’s not a bid for your validation.  It’s a courtesy to you,  I’m not asking for your approval,  I am doing you the favor of providing you with an opportunity to rethink your stereotypes.

A blog  by Rick Chandler at NBC sports (WARNING:  Sheer jackassery) said “But taking half a day to finish a marathon, and walking the great majority of it, is not really a sports accomplishment, is it? It’s just kind of a long walk to the store.”

He.  Finished.  A.  Marathon.  How dare anyone think that they have the right to dole out the title of “athlete” or try to belittle his accomplishment?  According to several sources I looked at, only 0 .1% – 1% of people in the US have ever completed a marathon.  I don’t care how much he weighs, or how long it took him – he is in ELITE company and Rick Chandler can go straight to hell.

I hope that these kinds of attitudes don’t discourage people from pursuing movement options that they love.  I hope that you do whatever makes your body happy.  If you say that you are an athlete then I believe you and I support you –   athlete to athlete!

If you are interested in a weight-neutral discussion about fitness (for people of all sizes and abilities) you can check out the Fit Fatties Forum at www.fitfatties.com.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm  Comments (42)  

42 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Rick Chandler can go f*** himself. What an ass! I’ve completed two marathons (walking not running), and it’s not a “just a long walk to the store” – it’s a grueling endurance test, and I spent 3-4 months prior to each marathon doing training. (And I’m training to do a third marathon right now.) Most people cannot walk 26.2 miles in a day, and Kelly Gneiting did it in less than 10 hours! He’s an athlete, and he should not be viewed as anything less than that.

  2. I DETEST this attitude. My boyfriend, at 6’5 and around 250 lbs, runs half-marathons in under 2 hours…and STILL gets sideways glances from people who assume that to run you have to be small and thin. Clearly, you don’t, OR HE COULDN’T RUN THE DAMN RACE. Ugh!

  3. Ugh ugh ugh!!! Now I’m depressed. Will attitudes ever change???

    Sorry…frustrating.

    On a more positive note, congratulations to Kelly Gneiting on a job well done!

    Great blog, Ragen, as always.

  4. What. the. hell. I had to look up more articles on this. What on earth is wrong with people? This guy is AWESOME. Chandler screwed up those numbers, and a lot of people are taking Gneiting’s “delirious” comment very seriously, along with ANY complaints of pain or physical stress. He walked/jogged 26 miles! Of course his feet hurt. In all the videos, he seems very good natured about it.

    I have to assume that none of these detractors actually looked up the other numbers. The last participant came in around 12 hours. Gneiting averaged 1 mile/22 minutes. He paced himself, and to scoff at that and call it “laziness” is incredibly ignorant. I don’t know if these people are just dense or if they simply had joke PE programs in high school. Endurance trumps speed. Especially when it’s a MARATHON. In the rain. For 26 MILES.

    Ugh, so much anger. Sometimes I think support and a good meme are the only cure: http://images.mylot.com/userImages/images/postphotos/2451185.jpg

    • I know I’m late posting, but I wanted to second your comment about his feet hurting. It’s extremely common for people to _pass out and need oxygen_ during/after a marathon. (My cousin passed out after she crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon, and she is an extremely fit woman who does IRON MAN for god’s sake.) And people are making a big deal about his feet hurting?

  5. I’ve waded into a couple of on-line discussions about this marathoner.

    As I’m very fond of saying, I’m a marathoner. Anyone who moves their body 42.2km under their own power? Go them. Anyone who fronts up to that starting line is a rock star. Anyone who finishes is a marathoner.

    As a marathoner, I’m not too concerned about his remarks about delirium. Not uncommon. In one trail marathon, I had the idea I could lie down and the Australian native wildlife could bring me berries, and then I’d never have to move again. It seemed appealing at the time (I’d just run over Mount Ansley. That marathon had two mountains, and I was facing the second.) Even the first guy who did this reported having a chat to Pan on the way.

    When I cheer on other runners, I have a couple of phrases I use. I like “Looking good, looking strong”, “Looking good, looking brave”, and at the end of the race I like to shout “Marathoner”. I’d have said them all to Mr Gneiting.

    There’s an ongoing argument in the running community about “Are slow marathoners ruining it for everyone?” My answer is “I really cannot see how.” If I’m still out running, and everyone else is in the pub, more beer for them. My body. I consent to running for 6 hours. It is informed consent. My problem.

    The marathon is a test of strength, mental and physical. I rate running a marathon as a greater achievement for me, than getting my doctorate. Mr Gneiting is a marathoner. 26.2 mile, 42.2km. Most people don’t even dream of doing what he has done.

  6. My husband (a skinny person) used to run marathons, so I have watched and cheered at quite a few. I’ve always been amazed at how many fat bodies (male and female) were running, walking and finishing the marathon, often ahead of my skinny husband.

    If you haven’t done it, go watch one, you will be amazed at how many different-looking bodies are out there.

  7. To me this always sounds a whole lot like “I like feeling superior to fat people, so stay where you are fatty and I’ll keep putting you down to make myself feel better”.

    Bingo.

    Although there is a lot of runners being up their own behind in this, it also expresses the rank insincerity of the crisis which really seeks to make fat people second class rather than ‘fitter’ or sometimes even thinner or whatever is claimed.

  8. Kudos to Mr. Gneiting! I despise running, but I know that this is a feat for anyone who can do it. A pity more people aren’t waking up and realizing that weight doesn’t equate to how healthy a person is.

  9. 1) The whole “you should exercise to lose weight, but this guy is too fat to exercise” dichotomy just made my brain explode. A lot. Good thing it’s housecleaning day.

    2) *I* couldn’t finish a marathon, even if I walked the whole way (as many people who are considered “healthy” only by their weight routinely do). We should be cheering on the people who choose to challenge themselves by doing the marathon, regardless of size and speed.

    • I hope that you were able to clean up the explodiating brains! I agree with what you are saying about cheering people on – I may never understand why people can’t be happy to let other people make their choices and live happily.

      ~Ragen

  10. I actually tried running years ago and stopped because people felt it was to strenuous. Know what? I just might try running again!

    Call me naive, but I actually thought people would be supportive and awed by Kelly Gneiting. I never dreamed they would be snarky and nasty. He wasn’t the last one in, by quite a margin; no one had to wait for him to finish; no one drug him over the finish line. Nope, he ran/walked over it himself.

    My guess is that people are genuinely scared of him. Sad. Sad. Sad.

    so Susie

  11. Wow, I am appalled that people would say that. You would think with all the fat-phobia, people would at least say “way to go fatty for moving” (as you pointed out), but it’s really a damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation. And I don’t get Rick Chandler. My fiance runs marathons and that time isn’t long at all and has Rick Chandler ever run a marathon? It’s hell. I am of the opinion that people who do them are masochists…including my fiance. =)

  12. I took a backpacking trip with my school in high school and my fat friend came too. She was the only one I knew well and we walked together, bringing up the rear most of the time but not by much. We hiked 5 miles across hills and beaches to the campsite and then 5 miles back again. When we got back to the bus at the end, she had to use the restroom, so I got on the bus without her. “We can go as soon as she gets back,” I said. Somebody said, “We have to wait for her AGAIN?” and somebody else: “Why did she even come on this trip?” One guy, a sort of a tough guy, though not particularly big, said, “You shut your mouth. She’s carried more on her back than anyone here, and she kept up and never complained. She’s my hero. That girl could kill a f*cking lion!”

    Kelly Gneiting, you are my hero. I bet you could kill a f*cking PRIDE of lions!

    • I love this story, thank you so much for posting it here :)

      ~Ragen

  13. Okay – I am not as nice as you….I commented on his blog on line once I read your post.
    THIS IS WHAT I HAD TO SAY!
    “I am, well, just sick over your comments. Had this ATHELETE been in a wheel chair , or 90 yrs old or on fake legs, deaf and blind you would have applauded his heroism, his drive and determination. His dedication to take on more than he was thought capable of would have made the evening news. I always have said the only two people that ever get recognition at a marathon or the winner and the guy who takes the longest to hit the finish line.
    This IS a sports accomplishment. Better yet it is a HUMAN accomplishment. I think he fucking ROCKS for daring to put himself out there. He has alot bigger balls (no pun intented) then most the men I know regardless of thier size.
    When will modern day media get off the FAT WAGON and start seeing people for WHO they are.
    The “BIGGER ACCOMPLISHMENT” is not to lose weight first and then live your life. It is to take the first step to living your life OUTLOUD and being happy.

    A man born without a right leg won the NCAA wrestling championship. Did anybody write an article about how HE should have stayed on the couch? NO – he was applauded for his efforts and achievements.

    Try riding the HUMANITY TRAIN Rick…It’s a much smoother ride!”

    • I commented as well, although I don’t think I was as nice as you. I implied (but did not outright call) Rick Chandler a hypocrite.

      It’s responses like his which continue to show me that it’s not about our “health” as people like to say it is. No, it has to do with they don’t want to see fat people. Period.

      Here’s a guy who’s an athlete to begin with (a sumo wrestler), who completes two marathons (and I don’t care if he walked all 26 miles of both marathons, he completed it), and the response is, “FATTY! Why oh why are you making us look at you?”

      Yeah, that really is what it all boils down to. We are being fat at them again. *sighs*

      • I’m going to use “being fat at them” repeatedly – you are so right, it has nothing to do with our health.

        ~Ragen

    • I’m really glad that you replied to him and I absolutely love what you have to say about living out loud and being happy!!!!! I’m a little concerned to compare body size to a disability – this is just for me personally but I don’t feel like I would say that what I do as an athlete is at the same level as someone who dances on a prosthetic leg or etc. I don’t think of my body as a disability but I think that a lot of people would feel like it is. Anyway, thanks for your reply to him and your comment here!

      ~Ragen

  14. I believe that most people could run a marathon if they spent several months training. The point is that most of us don’t want to do the training or make the effort. I started training myself at one point. I got up to running around seventy minutes straight and quit running. I tell myself that I’ll go back to it, but until I’m actually at the starting line of a marathon I could be lying to myself.

    When I was a teen, I did a few walk-a-thons. They were twenty miles walks inside one day. Most of us did it about five hours or at the rate of four miles an hour. We walked at a fast pace and broke out into a jog occasionally. It wasn’t difficult. I don’t recall any of us breaking out in a sweat.

    I think he should be applauded for making the effort and going out there and doing it. I know I can walk all day. I’ve had a job that I did just that for many years. I also know I walk fast (my children, friends, husbands {ex and current one} all complain about it). Still, would I pay money to walk all day for a cause? Apparently, not since I haven’t done it, yet.

    He should be applauded for his effort. It doesn’t matter how many other people could do a marathon. He went out and did it.

  15. I think you’ve absolutely nailed one of the biggest straw men that fat-haters throw up there. “I care about your fat for your health! your HEEAALTH!” but then when presented with someone who is doing, frankly, exactly what fat-haters say he SHOULD be doing (leaving alone for the moment that I think fat-haters shouldn’t be “shoulding” anyone), all of a sudden the narrative shifts and now we’re talking about how that person shouldn’t be moving at all. *blink blink* um, what? sheer and total hypocrisy. FAIL.

    • I so agree with you. If you’re going to say that I’m aesthetically displeasing to you then that’s your opinion and you’re welcomed to it, but don’t try to mask it in a “won’t somebody think of the fat people” argument and then try to keep me down when I run around being healthy.

      ~Ragen

  16. I’ve, pretty much avoided the comments on most of these articles. It’s usually all the same crap anyway. But when I did slog in (mostly a reflex and usually just up to about my knees), I found myself thinking, ‘My, such stringent requirements these people have for their chosen sport. Wonder if ANY of them could qualify to enter a professional sumo ring? MucH LESS take home the championship belt, twice’. Kind of unlikely since runners don’t generally have the mass, flexability, explosive muscle strenght or, frankly, the added physical protection Gneiting’s bulk provides in the ATHLETIC competition of sumo wrestling. Or, to paraphrase one of those lovely quotes-

    ‘At their size, sumo just doesn’t seem like any activity that’s healthy.’

    But I’d sure like to see them try it.

    • “At their size, sumo just doesn’t seem like any activity that’s healthy.’”

      I love that!

      ~Ragen

  17. A big “amen” to the entire post, with an additional comment.

    Even before finishing a freaking marathon, this man was a trained athlete! How many of the people making disparaging comments about his health and ability to complete a marathon could ever compete in a sumo match?

    It feels like, on top of the egregious fat phobia, there is some serious ethnocentrism in the willful ignorance with regards to the physical demands of the sport of sumo. Its not just a bunch of fat guys smacking into each other, its an established martial art requiring not just the physical ability to compete but a subtle understanding of the physics of both your own and your opponents’ bodies.

    I say that these armchair physicians can decide if he’s “allowed” to be active when they try to do half of what this guy can do, including a sumo match.

  18. A big “amen” to the entire post, with an additional comment.

    Even before finishing a freaking marathon, this man was a trained athlete! three time US Champion even!
    How many of the people making disparaging comments about his health and ability to complete a marathon could ever compete in a sumo match?

    It feels like, on top of the egregious fat phobia, there is some serious ethnocentrism in the willful ignorance with regards to the physical demands of the sport of sumo. Its not just a bunch of fat guys smacking into each other, its an established martial art requiring not just the physical ability to compete but a subtle understanding of the physics of both your own and your opponents’ bodies.

    I say that these armchair physicians can decide if he’s “allowed” to be active when they try to do half of what this guy can do, including a sumo match.

    • Glad that you liked the post. You are so right about his being an athlete prior to the marathon and about the lack of respect for sumo wrestling (at least in the US). People seem to like to sit on their ass and pass judgment on people who are actually accomplishing things. I call bullshit!

      ~Ragen

      • Reminds me of an earlier blog post about armchair critics. So true!

        ~ Mary-Ellin

  19. I wish I could document the changes in people’s faces when I show off my half-marathon medallions…
    Last night I just couldn’t help myself; I had to sling out my latest (Dallas RNR Half, only yesterday) for a friend who had stopped by after his own success, completing a 100-mi endurance race on horseback.
    I could see skepticism battle w/subdued awe in his eyes & could almost read his thoughts (“YOU?!? are able to do half-marathons?”)
    Watch out – I’ve never had any true desire to do a full marathon, but if you keep on posting such inspirational stories, I may have to buckle down & prove more haters wrong!

    • That would be such an awesome photo project if there was a way to do it. Congratulations on kicking a whole lotta ass!

      ~Ragen

  20. This really just proves to me that it isn’t about our health its about being superior to us. When one of us proves that we can be physically active they have to take issue with how we do it, and try to pawn their hate off as fears for our health.

    • You are absolutely right! I think it’s just important that we see through it!

      ~Ragen

  21. Yes, yes, and yes. I think you are right on the money with this post. This is an incredibly interesting example of the way that fat phobia manifests. I couldn’t seem to resist reading the comments on the runners forum. I agree with all the things you wrote but wanted to add something that really stuck out to me.

    So many of the commenters wrote something like “He definitely has a great spirit” or “There is no question the guy has some heart and definitely some mental toughness.” First, I think these type of comments are often made to mask the denigrating, hateful comments. It is as if people believe that making comments about his heart and spirit mean the commenter isn’t rude, unkind, or intolerant. Second, I really hate these comments because, although Gneiting clearly does have some rad mental toughness, he also clearly has some equally rad physical toughness. He finished a freaking MARATHON, folks. His body is hardcore strong. Commenters post about his spirit and heart and abandon any recognition of the fact that his body did something awesome. Of course they can’t talk about what his body was able to accomplish though, that would require acknowledging that a fat body can be just as strong and powerful as any other body.

    • I hadn’t thought about that but you are so right – it’s absolutely a discounting of the body, and I do think that people try to use them to mitigate their level of assholeishness. Thanks for the awesome comment :)

      ~Ragen

  22. This frustrates the Hell out of me too. I am 200+ and just finished my first triathlon. I have never been a really small person. I am doing it because it motivates me to do something for myself and I like the variety.

    I did try the marathon thing, just the training and injured myself at 13 miles. ITS TOUGH!! All the comments I get about training and doing what I have relate to size. Oh, you must really be slim now. Stuff like that.

    Nope, still a size 18, but healthier and happier. Training for the next one. Smaller Size/Weight does not always equate healthy, our society is messed up.

    • Congratulations on your first tri – that’s awesome! Here’s to you kicking even more ass :)

  23. I saw the story in the LA Times about this man and he is so. Awesome. I have nothing but respect for people who can finish a marathon, regardless of their time. I sure as heck couldn’t do it. Go Kelly go!

  24. As a 5 ft 5/125 lb woman, I have a conventionally ‘normal’ body size. However, I have noticed a number of people giving me an incredulous up-and-down gaze when I tell them I am a runner and marathoner (and that I completed my last marathon in under 4 hours). I have short, round legs, a plump face, a shy demeanor, and a large ass. Anyone who does not fit the canonical body ideal of a runner (aggressive, thin, lithe, long legs, NO body fat) is often questioned — especially by thin non-athletes.
    This is truly unfortunate. I spent the first 20 years of my life believing that, because of my body shape, I could never be athletic. When I started running, I did so at dawn, so no one could see and ridicule me. When I first started running in races, I was shocked to see people much larger than I was blowing me out of the water.
    This ideal runner’s body type myth is really detrimental. It prevents people from realizing their true potentials.

    • Holy crap – under 4 hours is amazing! Congrats on your accomplishments and thank you so much for sharing your story – I’m sorry that you still receive this kind of treatment and I hope that you just keep kicking ass!

      ~Ragen

      • Thanks! Of course I’m still running … no amount of belittling can beat a runner’s high :) Just found your blog and am thoroughly enjoying reading through the archives. Really thoughtful and inspiring stuff for people of all sizes!

  25. I just want to say that as someone who has run two marathons (with Team in Training) and is training for a third and whose goal is always just to cross the finish line, I think that ANYONE who completes a marathon – or attempts a marathon, or a half marathon, or any goal event for that matter – is deserving of credit and congratulations.

    I hope Mr. Gneiting is proud of himself for a phenomenal accomplishment and it reminds me of something I heard at a pre-marathon pasta dinner by the speaker who had run dozens of marathons in his life. He told us that he had been speaking to an elite distance runner, one of those guys who completes marathons in just over 2 hours and he said, “I don’t know how you guys do it. I can’t imagine running for 6 hours!”

    I challenge anyone to run/walk/MOVE for 9 hours and tell me if it’s a big accomplishment.

  26. Mr. Gneiting did a great job at completing a marathon. I’ve never done one and admire anyone who has. His story is inspiring!


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