US sumo wrestler finds peace and guidance on journey to World Games
Sumo wrestling might be considered an unusual sport for an American, but for Andrew “Stonewall” Roden, whose roots in Alabama date back to the Revolutionary War, he was literally taking a different travel route that led him into the sport.
After a visit to Birmingham, Roden and a friend decided to take a different route home.
“For some reason, on the way back to the freeway, we ended up taking more surface roads,” Roden recalled. “We have not turned back. We just happened to pass the city limit sign that said, “Home of the World Games”.
He was intrigued. So, on returning to Huntsville, Roden searched the internet for more, thinking about attending. Browsing through sports, sumo wrestling came to him.
After some research to learn more about the sport, he finally realized that he might be a good candidate for it.
“When I was wrestling in high school and college, I was very physical, very explosive and very powerful, which are three of the main principles of sumo,” Roden explained. “When I watched sumo, started to learn more about it, and realized I could be good, I thought, ‘Wow. That’s almost like everything I’ve been through. As far as my sports career was concerned, it was almost as if God was preparing me to be a sumo wrestler.
He began training in May 2020, with the specific goal of making the U.S. World Games sumo team.
In his first tournament in September 2020, he faced two defending national champions. Roden went undefeated and won two gold medals.
“I was like, ‘I think this is the right way,'” he laughed.
He went on to win the 2021 National Championship as well as the 2021 North American Championship, which was the qualifier for the World Games.
Just as Roden didn’t grow up in the world of sumo wrestling, neither did Roden grow up going to church. His family was Baptist, and although his grandmother went to church “every time the doors opened”, he lived with his father, who only attended on major holidays.
Influence of coaches
The fight exposed Roden to a relatable journey of faith, with two coaches who had strong faith and shared it with him without being pushy.
In 2016, Roden went through a “hard time”, thinking that being a good person was enough. Even though he tried to “do well”, bad things kept happening. He said he often thought, “Why?”
Then he had a personal experience with God.
“I heard God calling me,” Roden recalled. “I said, ‘You know what — that’s the problem: I can be a good person and try to do good things, but my spiritual life is a wreck.’ I started to realize that that was kind of the reason why all this — at least part of the reason — was coming.”
Roden found a church,Bakers Chapel Baptist in Guntersville, and became serious about his faith.
“As people, we are captivated by the moment, we want to control the moment,” Roden said. “We want to control adversity and the bad things that happen in life.
“By building a relationship with God, by building that faith, by understanding that he takes me where he wants me to be, it has helped me to be much more at peace with things. It helped me to become much more open-minded to try to see his advice, for example, everything that led me to sumo.
Although the sport’s history dates back to the Shinto religion, only professional sumo wrestlers in Japan now include religious rituals. Jhe spirituality was removed at the amateur level.
There is, however, a non-religious tradition practiced by all wrestlers. EThe early contestants wore long flowing robes and upon entering the “dohyo”, the playing area, crouched down and moved their outstretched arms in a circle, showing that there was no concealed weapon. Tradition now shows that an athlete will fight loyally.
The fight fair is also the origin of the mawashi, the uniform worn by sumo wrestlers. Because it’s so revealing, it’s not possible to hide a weapon.
Roden said he will continue to compete until he feels God is telling him to move on. In the meantime, he started working on a doctorate. in psychology.
Not finished yet
Although not happy with his performance at the World Games, where he slipped and lost his first round, Roden hasn’t changed his journey.
“Maybe that’s part of the way God wants things to be,” Roden said philosophically. “It wasn’t in the cards that I won a medal. That’s when, ‘Well, God’s not ready for this to end.’ If I had won gold this year, maybe I would have just hung up.
“Your faith is tested every day to some degree,” he acknowledged. “When you’re competing in a sport at my level, it’s going to be a lot tougher. I keep a positive mentality because I know I’m chasing something bigger than myself.
“God led me here – that’s what God wants,” he said confidently.
To follow Roden’s ongoing journey, find him on Instagram at @stonewall_roden.