Most endurance athletes try to keep their body fat to a minimum, but Danish athlete Jarmo Pitkanen intentionally gained 100 pounds before embarking on a grueling 150-mile footrace through the Sahara Desert. Why would anyone do such a thing?
Pitkanen, 33, wants to show the world that obese people can compete in endurance events, and that one can indeed be fat and fit.
“I wanted to show that a regular guy could do it,” Jarmo told the New York Times. “It’s a personal accomplishment.”
From 186 Pounds to 286 Lbs
In 2012, Pitkanen completed his third endurance footrace: the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race, a seven-day, 132-mile trek starting in Katmandu, Nepal, and ending in Tibet.
In April 2012, Jarmo completed the Marathon des Sables, a 150-mile footrace in the Sahara Desert, while weighing 286 pounds. Before the race, the 5-foot-11 Pitkanen gained almost 100 pounds from his then-starting weight of 186 pounds.
Jarmo, who admits he has “naturally always been heavy,” often gains weight before his races to make sure he’s considered clinically obese when he finishes.
Pitkanen, who calls himself the only obese human on Earth to run the hottest race in the Sahara, the highest race in the Himalayas, and the coldest race in Alaska, gains weight by eating over 5,000 healthy calories a day.
During his race in the Sahara and a subsequent footrace through Alaska, Pitkanen suffered severe foot injuries, which doctors attributed to the excess weight he was carrying. The injuries healed, but strengthened Jarmo’s resolve.
“Maybe the injuries were more serious for me due to my weight,” he says. “But the human body is an incredible healing machine.”
‘You Can Be Fat and a Top Athlete’
While his doctor advised him against gaining more weight or yo-yo-dieting, Jarmo’s feats are helping change the widespread perception that fat people can’t be good athletes.
“Fat doesn’t play as much of a role in fitness as people think,” said Dr. Linda Bacon, a physiologist and member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.
“Some people who are really fat exercise regularly. We see top athletes perform well in fat bodies. Times are changing. The population has gotten bigger, so we’re going to see more fat athletes out there.”
While few people want to gain huge amounts of body fat, it’s not unheard of. Chris Pratt, star of the TV comedy series “Parks and Recreation,” recently gained over 40 pounds to reach his target weight of 300 pounds for a film role.
Similarly, fitness trainer Drew Manning intentionally gained and lost 75 pounds to better empathize with his obese clients. After regaining his ripped physique, Manning said being heavy made him more sympathetic to the psychological obstacles overweight people face.
Drew discussed his journey from ripped to fat to ripped again in his book, Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 lbs on Purpose.