He’s served in Afghanistan, protected the Queen at Buckingham Palace and played rugby at the Principality Stadium, but now Gavin Bilton has his eyes set on becoming the world’s strongest man.
The 32-year-old, from Caerphilly, first began weightlifting seriously just over two years ago and has already tasted success.
In September, he was one of 12 competitors at Europe’s Strongest Man. A month later, he became the first Welshman to win UK’s Strongest Man.
That success earned him a place at last month’s World’s Strongest Man competition, which was held in Florida.
Competing alongside the biggest names in the sport was “the pinnacle – there’s nothing higher,” said Bilton.
The competition featured 25 competitors, split into five groups.
Competitors lift and carry heavy objects, such as monster truck tyres, blocks of steel, car engines and car chassis.
While a rib injury curtailed Bilton as he finished bottom of his group, his sights are firmly set on winning the competition next year.
“Thousands go for it but only 25 can make it to the World’s Strongest Man. It’s a massive achievement.
“You learn so much when you’re there and pick the other competitors’ brains.”
He added: “I could use all the big words to describe it. It was the greatest experience of my life.”
But before next year’s competition, Bilton is waiting on an invite to compete at Britain’s Strongest Man (separate to the UK’s Strongest Man competition) in January – a competition he’s also aiming to win.
“You’ve got to be confident and do your best to win. If you don’t believe you’re going to win, you’ve already lost,” he told Caerphilly Observer.
Six foot six inches tall and weighing more than 200kg (around 30st), Bilton is one of the heaviest competitors in the sport. His heaviest lift to date is 400kg – twice his body weight.
But maintaining that weight isn’t easy. He said: “It does take a lot. I aim to eat 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day – mainly protein like steak, chicken, mince and eggs. In the lead up to a competition, I up my intake and carb load.”
‘The Bull’ has come a long way in the sport in such a short time.
A former rugby player who had spells at Welsh Premiership sides Bridgend, Swansea, Newport and Bedwas, Bilton pulled on the green of Caerphilly in the WRU National Bowl final at the Principality Stadium in 2017.
The game ended in defeat for second rower Bilton and his teammates, with Amman United, who had Welsh rugby icon Shane Williams in their lineup, coming out on top.
Shortly after, Bilton’s rugby days came to an abrupt end. While playing for a British Army XV against a French Army side, Bilton “shattered” his thumb and needed surgery to repair the damage. Part of the knuckle had to be removed and wires were in place for several months, with the thumb needing to be screwed back together.
It was that injury that convinced Bilton to give up rugby, as well as boxing, to focus on weightlifting.
“You can’t do both rugby and weightlifting at a high level as they’re both completely different,” he explained.
Earlier this year, Bilton’s 13 years with the Welsh Guards came to an end.
He was working as bricklayer when he first joined the army, following in the footsteps of his older brother, who also served.
Bilton is youngest of three brothers and has a younger sister. He grew up in Caerphilly but attended Bedwas Infants School, Bedwas Junior School and then Bedwas High School, before finishing his education at Ystrad Mynach College.
During his time in the Welsh Guards, he did two tours of Afghanistan, served as a Queen’s Guard outside Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and took part in the Trooping of the Colour – a parade which sees soliders, horses and musicians come together to mark the Queen’s official birthday, with the Royal Family in attendance.
“I did some awesome things in the Welsh Guards”, said Bilton.
He spoke fondly about his memories in the Welsh Guards, in particular the charitable work he was able to be a part of for charity Dreams and Wishes.
“We would visit terminally ill children in hopsitals and hospices in our uniforms and hand out presents.
“We had Father Christmas with us and people dressed as characters from Frozen. I took part in that for three or four years running.”
But with his army and rugby days now in the past, Bilton has one main goal – emulate his heroes Zydrunas Savickas and Eddie Hall and become the world’s strongest man.
All the action from this year’s edition of World’s Strongest Man will air on Channel 5 from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day.
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