Aging is tough. The hardest part for me has been coming to grips with the fact that some of the physical abilities I took for granted when I was younger deteriorated before I really had the chance to appreciate them. I thought I would be fit and healthy forever, and then it's like I woke up one day and suddenly I couldn't see as well, my hearing was bad, and when I went to pull a 40-ton timber truck 110 feet, I could barely get the thing moving.
As a 54-year-old World's Strongest Man, I like to think I've aged with dignity and grace. But as I enter my golden years of deadlifting 17,000 silver dollars, I realize that you must approach life with a certain amount of acceptance. Acceptance that you just can't walk up to a Mack truck filled with 40,000 pounds of coal, strap yourself into a harness, grab a rope, and start hauling anymore. Christ, these days I'm sore for a whole week after pulling 20,000 or even 15,000 pounds of coal. Sometimes, depending on how my old bones feel in the morning, I have to replace the Mack truck with a smaller dump truck, or a tractor.
Unfortunately, with the way my muscles stiffen up nowadays, my time of competitively hauling heavy-duty flatbeds and fire engines are long past, and can only be relived by watching old home videos or ESPN2 at three in the morning.
It's tough not to reminisce about your days as a younger World's Strongest Man when you get to be an older World's Strongest Man like myself. I remember in wilder times my strong-man friends Geoff Capes, Lars Hedlund, and I would get together and toss a couple dozen 50-pound kegs over a 14-foot steel wall with ease. Now when we get together, it's like watching a bunch of nursing home patients let out for their daily recreation period. "Can we lower the bar to 7 feet?" Lars will say. "Thirty-five-pound kegs today?" Geoff jokes.
Sure, we'll laugh at ourselves while we foolishly try to act like the young strongest men we once were, but I've always felt that underneath that laughter is an undercurrent of deep uncertainty. I wonder if we'll ever experience the same kind of fulfillment that came with lifting and placing 350-pound concrete balls onto chest-high platforms. Will anything ever fill the void left by no longer being able to lift a really, really large log over our heads?
These are the kinds of things I think about when I'm sorting through boxes in my attic and I find myself unable to bend a steel bar around my neck as fast as I used to.
I guess when you get down to it, what really bothers me is, now that I'm an older World's Strongest Man, I finally see how our society celebrates the World's Strongest youth, and pretends like its World's Strongest elders don't even exist. I get it. No one wants to pay to see a guy get winded after turning over only two cars. But sometimes I start to wonder if anybody even cares about me anymore, or remembers that there was a time when I was the young, massively built Adonis waddling along a dotted line with a 400-pound metal pot between my legs.
Am I of no use to society unless I can squat a platform of eight women dressed in bathing suits?
The ghost of my former self haunts me still. "Don't hurt yourself, Dad," my kids will say in a patronizing tone when I strap a refrigerator to my back and start pacing back and forth. They don't have to remind me I can't carry the ones with built-in freezers anymore.
I know I can't, and it kills me.
Every day I look in the mirror and see a shell of the World's Strongest Man I used to be—a man who made the audience pause when they saw how fast I could load the bed of a truck with 12 heavy barrels. Now folks just humor me and say, "Good for you, Bill!" when I lift a 700-pound ox wagon. And why should they be impressed? Only 700 pounds? My wife can lift that, and she's two years older than me.
And it's only getting worse. The other day I had to go to the doctor, because during one of my speaking engagements, I threw out my back trying to pick up a child with my pinkie finger. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was?
I guess I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. There's nothing out there for a World's Strongest Man past his prime. I suppose I could travel, or take up gardening, but I'm afraid nothing will ever be as satisfying as competitively flipping over a giant tire, walking after it, flipping it again, walking after it, and flipping it again.
Well, whatever I decide to do in my later years, I better do it quickly. After all, when you're an old World's Strongest geezer like I am, and you've taken a colossal amount of anabolic steroids, the old ticker could explode at any moment.