Highland Games Champ Becomes CrossFit Masters Competitor

March 21, 2012

Ashleigh VanHouten

Bill Bailey, of Salem, N.H., is 71 years old and has been a CrossFitter for just three months, training out of CrossFit Free. He has a list of athletic accomplishments that would be impressive for anyone, much less a competitor who has won most of his accolades after the age of 55.

Bailey’s age and inexperience in CrossFit do not stop him from some truly admirable feats of athleticism, stemming from a long history in strength training and Highland Games competition.

When CrossFit Free recently opened in his town, Bailey decided to give it a try. “I’ve worked out since I was 11, and I’d never done anything like this — combining many different exercises in one WOD — so I thought it would be perfect for me,” he says. 

Bailey is the kind of athlete who will, and does, try just about everything. Highland Games, powerlifting and even swimming, which he took up at the age of 66.

Bailey became involved in the Highland Games in 1988. With a strong lifting background, he was already primed for classic Highland Games events like the caber toss, hammer throw and weight throw. At 55, he set two world records for 28-pound and 42-pound weight throws for distance, records that stand to this day. 

“There is no age barrier, we’re all the same. Even though I am the grandfather of the gym.”


And 15 years later, he competed in the World Championship and won in the 60-65 age group (after which he retired). At 60, he entered a powerlifting meet in Manchester, N.H., winning his age group with an incredible showing: a 310-pound bench, 400-pound squat and 470-pound deadlift, all state records. Bailey says his background has primed him for success in his new sport of CrossFit. “I’m able to adapt and train for multiple events.”

The Masters athlete has a specific recipe for competitive mental preparedness. “When I was preparing for a competition, I would focus on who was the best man to beat,” he says. “Then I would study his best moves. I would work on those moves in my head and replay them over and over. I ate and slept [the competition].”

One of the older athletes competing in the Open this year, Bailey would like to see further definition of the Masters categories, allowing for a 70-75 age group. He follows CrossFit Free’s coach Brandon Petersen’s programming, with a focus on his weaknesses and mobility training. A diabetic, Bailey maintains a strict, healthy diet, and favors kettlebell work, rope climbing and lifting — he says the plyometric moves and explosive lifting he incorporates in his training adds “a great deal” to his overall fitness.

What does Bailey love about CrossFit? “Everything,” he says. “[CrossFit Free owners] Brandon and Justin have taken me under their wings and helped me tremendously with technique and all-around training.”

But does he experience any discrimination or preferential treatment as one of the more mature members of the gym? Not at all, he insists. “There is no age barrier, we’re all the same. Even though I am the grandfather of the gym.”

Bill Bailey is in 137th place in the Masters 60-plus Division, completing 58 burpees in 12.1, 64 snatches in 12.2, 168 reps in 12.3 and 97 reps in 12.4.

Bill Bailey has words of wisdom for anyone, young or old, unsure about getting involved in CrossFit. “It’s as safe as any other exercise program. Some may say that I’m too old to be with all of these young people, but that’s not true. They welcomed me and I feel a part of the CrossFit Free family. They would welcome any other seniors too — and so would I.”