Last week at his Hollister home, Roy Sims hosted a dozen U.S. sumo athletes who are competing in the Sumo World Championships or hoping to qualify for the event. Sims made a T-shirt for all of the camp participants—he runs Golden Bear Central Coast Sumo—which read, “Mind, Body, Sumo.”
“Sumo represents the spirit aspect of sport,” said Sims, who is competing in his third—and most likely, final—Sumo World Championships in Osaka, Japan in October. “We’re intentional in honoring that aspect of the sport. It’s that spirit that allows you to tap into that next level. When your mind and body goes, you have to lean on that spirit for determination. And being able to tap into your own emotions and feel something is very powerful. And to do it without anger is huge. Blending all that together was the point of the camp.”
Sims is not your average athlete. For one, he’s 6-foot-5 and 370 pounds. Two, he views sumo as a spiritual, almost transcendental experience. One of the reasons why Sims started competing in sumo six years ago after a stint in Mixed Martial Arts was because the sport was in line with his true inner nature of being a gentle giant.
“We’re banging heads, going at it, but at the end of it, there’s that high level of respect,” said Sims, who is the Chief Technology Officer at the San Benito County Office of Education. “As a pacifist, that appeals to me.”
The 37-year-old Sims has had a decorated sumo career, bursting onto the scene in 2014 when out of nowhere he placed third in the U.S. Sumo Open at heavyweight. The next year, Sims won the Open Division. In 2018, he won the heavyweight title. He also has earned four gold medals in the U.S. Sumo Nationals, and competed in the World Championships in 2015 and 2016, placing third in the Open Division three years ago.
It’s been a great journey, one that won’t end even if he decides to call it a career after the World Championships. Unless you’re one of the biggest name stars in the sport, sumo doesn’t pay for itself. It takes a lot of monetary and emotional help to enter competitions and travel worldwide, and Sims said he has been overwhelmed by the support of the community. Part of the reason why Sims held the sumo camp was to reach out to the next generation of U.S. sumo athletes and give back to the sport that has given him so much.
“The new focus for me (athletics-wise) is coaching and helping the next generation do this,” he said. “Maybe I’ll start doing another camp for kids at some point, a football linemen/sumo camp or something like that.”
Sims was recently featured in Men’s Health magazine in a series that featured the role of strength in modern life. Sumo athletes must be strong, possess tremendous footwork, balance, speed, agility and explosive strength to succeed. Sims, who played college football and semi-pro football, has changed the way some people think about sumo, especially in the U.S.
“The biggest and coolest thing about doing this is I helped change a paradigm in how some people perceive sumo,” he said. “It’s not just big, overweight individuals slamming into each other—it’s about big, powerful individuals who have a lot of athletic ability. I was really excited to be in Men’s Health because that meant sumo was featured in Men’s Health. We’re changing the way people view the sport, and hopefully I’ve paved the way for the next generation of sumo athletes. I love to be that pioneer who can change the way people think and perceive things to open up to a great sport.”
By getting into coaching, Sims wants to model what sports should be all about: teaching life lessons, values and developing characteristics in people that will last a lifetime. Roy and his wife Libby have four kids—ages 11, 8, 4 and 2—and their oldest kids are at the point where Roy can really drive home the byproducts of what makes sports great.
“Sport is about development, and there is a lot of modeling of how to be kind to people and still be a successful athlete,” he said. “That to me is the most important thing. It’s character first, sports second, and making sure kids know it because that is not always modeled wherever you go. But it’s really the most important aspect of sports, to help kids in the community develop these strong characteristics. I don’t think I can do anything better than that.”
Along with their four kids, Roy and Libby have 16 chickens, three goats, a dog and a cat on their property.
“It’s a fun, chaotic house,” Roy said.
At the four-day camp Sims ran on his property, Sims had a different theme each day based off the four elements: Earth, wind, fire and water. Each day provided a different type of physical and mental training.
“Sunday (the last day of camp) was wind, which involved a lot of meditation and breath work,” he said. “This was not just about coming out and doing sumo; it’s about making you holistically better as a person, athlete and a being of this world.”
To celebrate the end of training camp, Sims and approximately 12 other sumo athletes took a free limo to dine at Kenzo Sushi, a highly popular all-you-can-eat place in San Jose. Incredibly enough, Sims wasn’t even the biggest person among the group.
“A couple of guys are bigger than me,” he said. “One guy was 445 pounds and another guy might have been 380.”
No truth to the rumor that Kenzo Sushi had to close their doors for the rest of the day when Sims’ group walked in.
“We’re big eaters, but not competitive eaters,” Sims said. “We are coming off a big week of training, but for me, I eat to feel good, so maybe it’s four rolls for me.”
Sims can’t wait to compete in the World Championships, as he missed the last two years due to injury. With this most likely being his last go-around at this event, it takes on extra meaning.
“I’m really focused on representing my country well and giving it my all,” he said. “You can’t really ask for much else as an athlete. It’s going to be great because I love going to Japan. They host a great world championships and I should do well for sure. It’s been an amazing ride, and I never expected to go around the world and represent my country.”
Sumo has brought Sims to a place of energy, contentment and fulfillment. Raised Catholic, Sims has truly been on a spiritual journey.
“I’ve read every major spiritual book, prayed with Buddhists and fasted with Islamists,” he said. “I’ve gone into churches around the world, seen different cultures and how beautiful they are. I’ve done a lot of Native American ceremonies, but when it comes down to it, my religion is love.”