At 96, Big Bill keeps his gym friends on their feet

ORANGE – Making his way through the 24 Hour Fitness of The Village at Orange, 96-year-old Bill Wilson leads a parade of body builders and gym goers, booking it as fast as he can on his walker.

Halfway through his march, Wilson rallies his friends to stand in a circle and sing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” before wheeling around and heading back to the other end of the gym.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Wilson exclaims on the way back, as claps and cheers resound around him.

Wilson, a Villa Park resident for 46 years, has been going to the gym a couple hours a day, five days a week, for more than 10 years. About half a year ago, he had the idea for his “marches.”

“I tell you, at 95 years old, you get crazy ideas,” Wilson said in his trademark Boston accent. “This happens to be one of them.”

Wilson leads his gym march at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday. He’s become an icon at the gym, garnering nicknames such as “Big Bill” and “Wild Bill,” known for shouting “Geronimo!” when he arrives in the morning. He started the march partly, he said, because he knows keeping the body healthy is the key to keeping the mind sharp.

The marches draw up to 20 people, with more cheering from the sidelines as they continue to work out. Fellow gym regular Dan Cornwell, 57, has been there from the beginning.

“He’s an inspiration,” Cornwell said. “There’s times I might come here depressed and I don’t want to work out, and I see him here.”

Despite Wilson’s advanced age, Cornwell said his friend is sharp and witty as can be, making him fun to talk to.

Gym staff have begun to get involved too – new hires are told early about Wilson’s marches, which have become a fun weekly ritual.

“It definitely brings in good vibes to the gym,” service representative Dominic Villegas said. “He’s 96 and he continues to come to the gym every day. It’s an inspiration for me as well, to continue to do whatever I need to do.”

Reaching the end of the march, Wilson…

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