Photo courtesy of Brett Hall
“I get out there and my blood is pumping and my breath is heavy … and it seems to me, I’m 18 again.”
William Hosken has four children, nine grandchildren and an affinity for afternoon naps. He’s also a CrossFit athlete, and at age 77, he was the oldest person to post a score for all five workouts of the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.
“I get a lot of people that tell me they hope to be where I am when they’re my age,” Hosken said.
Though he wrestled, ran track and played football in high school, Hosken’s eventual career as a computer programmer led to a sedentary lifestyle. By the time he reached his 69th birthday, the years had added up to an extra 20 lb.
“My son … really started getting on my case about it,” he said. “I remember one incident where I was reaching for a big piece of cheese at dinner and he slapped my hand.”
Hosken’s son followed the reprimand with a gift: a book about ultra-marathon running. Hosken was intrigued, but knew he couldn’t run more than a few steps.
“So I decided I would see how far I could walk,” he said. He walked 14 miles that day, and went on to run one marathon and two ultra-marathons over the next three years.
Running made him leaner, but it didn’t make him stronger.
“I was in really good aerobic condition, but I had no upper-body strength,” Hosken said. “That’s something that racing simply doesn’t do.”
Ever eager to learn new things—in his lifetime he has earned a Ph.D. in computer science, learned Morse code, gone to culinary school, explored caves with a recreational spelunking team and become a potter—when he heard many Navy SEAL members did CrossFit, he decided to make it his next pursuit, joining CrossFit Freedom in Libertyville, Illinois, in the summer of 2011.
“When I get interested in (new things), I go into them pretty deeply,” he said. “One day I just got into how strong I could get.”
A few months in, he noticed the “sagging, wrinkling skin” from his arms had started to fill out and firm up.
“I like what CrossFit does to my body,” he said. “I look in the mirror and I see muscle where I used to see wrinkles.”
Though Hosken competed in the Open in 2012, a bowel reconstruction surgery forced him to take more than a year off of CrossFit. But when registration for the 2014 Open came around, he didn’t let the hiatus serve as an excuse.
“It was cheap to enter, and the box was going to do (the Open workouts) every Friday, so I thought I might as well enter,” he said.
It didn’t matter to Hosken that he struggled with double-unders and didn’t have a muscle-up. Each week, he competed alongside friends decades his junior, posting his scores on the worldwide Leaderboard. In the couplet of overhead squats and pull-ups in Open Workout 14.2, he posted two hard-won reps, though the 65-lb. barbell was equal to his one-rep max. When the 168-rep couplet of 14.5 was announced in the final week, Hosken had one thought: “That is an insane number of burpees and thrusters!”
But after 41 minutes and 41 seconds, Hosken completed his second Open.
“I thought, ‘I can do six (reps) in a row, and six more, and six more,” he said. “And I can keep doing that until I’m done. After 41 minutes, the gym was almost empty, but I kept going.”
Since then, Hosken has continued to train at CrossFit Freedom three times per week. In November, he qualified for the 2015 National Masters Weightlifting Championships with a 42-kg (92.6-lb.) snatch, and a 50-kg (110.2-lb.) clean and jerk. Someday, he hopes to see his 3-year-old grandson learn burpees and bear crawls at his box.
In the meantime, one year older and thousands of reps fitter, Hosken is preparing to compete in the 2015 Open—even if it means posting just one score as prescribed.
“It makes me feel young,” he said. “I get out there and my blood is pumping and my breath is heavy … and it seems to me, I’m 18 again.”