Larger than life doesn’t even begin to describe Brodi Henderson.
At six-foot-seven and more than 300 lbs, the 19-year-old Langford resident who bench pressed 290 lbs as a 12-year-old has proven that size does matter, becoming the first Canadian ever to win the U.S. Sumo Open in California.
“I didn’t picture this five years ago, it was just something I thought I would do for fun,” the soft-spoken Henderson said. “I am proud to have competed for Canada and be the first Canadian to win the U.S. Open and bring back a trophy for my country, so I am pretty proud.”
Originating in Japan, the sport sees two competitors charge each other off a line and then open-hand strike, grapple, topple, throw or push the opponent to the canvas or outside a 4.55-metres diameter circular ring. The Sumo ring has proven to be home for the young Belmont graduate who won five matches in a row in a single-knockout tournament to take the title.
“It’s very physical. The initial hit coming off the line is similar to football in offensive line and defensive line and you are allowed open palm strike, so (there’s) a lot of jabbing of throats. It’s very physical almost to the extent of punches,” he said. “(But I enjoy it), my goal is to become a Yokozuna in Japanese Sumo.”
Making his achievement more impressive is the fact that he traditionally trains alone without the advantage of other sumo wrestlers to practice with. He sweats it out in a replica sumo ring, or dohyo, his father Lee helped build in his back yard, where he pushes around tractor tires, heavy weights and large 45-gallon pails wrapped in denim and filled with water or sand. It’s very hard work, he said, and the amount of work it takes to compete is contrary to the perception some have of the competitors that may not have the traditional athletic build.
“It is very different and a lot of people have different expectations,” he said. “I (too) first thought about it as big fat guys throwing each other around,” he said. “But (now I know) a high amount is technique and balance in very short and intense matches. It’s a good competitive physical sport all around, I think it is going to get big. It is a very unique sport, I like it a lot.”
Getting big is something that he constantly works at he said, eating 10-egg omelettes, several cans of tuna, sausages, ham and whatever else he has lying around in a single meal. Drinks often include numerous glasses of milk, and he eats five times a day to stay fit and keep the weight on.
“I am on the seafood diet, I see food and I eat it,” he said, laughing. “We have four to six dozen eggs in the house at all times and I eat five times a day (yet) it is hard to keep heavy.”
Henderson’s father Lee said successful sumo wrestlers in Japan are superstars and can find themselves in commercials and community events and said if his son wants to do it, he believes he can.
“It’s not just strength, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of life, about honour and integrity and dignity,” Lee said. “If you won, you would never pump your hands in the air or if you lost turn away and swear. If he can wrap his head around it and embrace it for what it is – he could be really successful.”
Regardless of what his son chooses to pursue – Henderson has been recruited by several Canadian and American universities already – Lee said he is already proud of the boy who now towers over him.
“Everyone in Langford just knows he is a good kid. He is respectful and very polite. Every team he played on he was well liked and respected,” Lee said. “Everyone recognizes him and he is a fine young man, sumo or no sumo, sport or no sport, I am just very proud of him.”
Brodi doesn’t know yet know what the future will hold but hopes to give Japan a shot before it is all said and done.
“I think it is going to be very difficult at first and a lot of getting used to, I have quite a good life here,” he said. “I like to think I can do it for sure but I will definitely do my best, and do my best to shine down there and move up as fast as possible. This is the biggest decision of my life.”