A 20-year old from Victoria who grew up practising sumo in his backyard is now the only North American in Japan's elite sumo league.
Brodi Henderson lives full time in Tokyo, training with the best sumo wrestlers in the world — and turning heads, said his father, Lee Henderson.
At six-foot-seven and 360 pounds, he's easy to spot, said Lee Henderson.
"He's the only sumo wrestler ever with blond hair."
"We were standing outside, and people would recognize him from newspapers and TV. They would get out of their cars and hand him their infants and babies, and take pictures with him."
Learned sumo at 15 watching YouTube
Henderson has risen quickly in the world of sumo since first competing in the U.S. at age 15.
"At first he did OK but not spectacular," said Andrew Freund, director of USA Sumo.
Each year, the B.C. teen returned to the U.S. to compete showing a "marked improvement," a sign of his dedication, said Freund.
With few opportunities to train in B.C., Henderson learned by watching videos on YouTube and practising at home.
"We built a sumo ring in our backyard and started humping around 45-gallon [170-litre] jugs of water," said Lee Henderson.
After winning his weight class in the U.S. Sumo open last year, he was chosen to join the Japanese Professional Sumo Association, said his father.
A big part of his training includes sleeping on the floor with 20 other elite wrestlers.
It has been almost three decades since a Canadian joined the elite league in Japan, but Henderson is not the first sumo wrestler from B.C.
In the 1980s, John Tenta of Surrey, B.C., made waves in the sumo world in Japan before returning to North America as a professional wrestler known as The Canadian Earthquake.