Plain Dealer News (Cleveland)

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Quick, who's the fastest player in the NFL right now? There are so many great options, but if you guessed Chris Johnson and his blazing 4.24-second 40-yard dash you would be correct. Now, who's the fastest man in the world right now? A little easier, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and his otherworldly 9.58 100-meter dash take the cake.

Now, who is the fastest man in the United States in the 60- to 64-year-old age bracket? The answer to that question is a little bit tougher to answer. To find the answer, you can look to ... the man who is a five-time winner at the National Senior Games in the 100 and 200 meters ... the man who has run the 100 in a time that would beat many high school athletes ... the man who didn't start running track competitively until he was 49 years old.

Oscar Peyton, 60, makes many of us jealous. Despite getting such a late start in competitive track, he has excelled. No high school track, no college track, no problem. After just one year of competition, he won the 100 meters at the 2003 National Senior Games with a time of 12.06 seconds. He also won the 200 meters that year with a time of 24.24.

He will compete in the 100 and 200 Saturday at Baldwin Wallace University.

"The speed that I have is natural," Peyton said. "I could not train at all for six months and just go out and run and I could probably run fast."

Much like Bolt and Johnson, Peyton was blessed with amazing speed. The 2003 National Senior Games -- his second full year of competition -- was just the beginning. In time, he only got better. When the 2005 Games rolled around, Peyton was ready to defend his crown. But he wanted to improve on his own personal times. And improve he did.

In 2005, he ran the 100 in 11.56 and the 200 in 24.00. He produced even better results in 2009 when he finished the 100 in a jaw-dropping 11.51 and the 200 in 23.71.

Here's some perspective. The ninth-place finisher in the 100 meters at June's Division III OHSAA state meet had a time of 11.37. Peyton's personal-best of 11.46 in the 100 meters would've placed him just .09 seconds out of ninth place. Peyton is 60.

Have you gotten on your treadmill yet?

At first glance, Peyton appears to have been built for track. Track athletes generally share one of two body types, short and compact or tall and lean. Peyton falls under the tall and lean category. He possesses many of the same characteristics as Olympic champion Bolt. Both are tall and fluid, and their long strides make running fast look effortless.

So why didn't Peyton run track in high school or college? At Grambling State, Peyton considered running for the track team but only on one condition.

"If a coach would've seen me and recognized my speed and my potential then I would have joined the track team but not without encouragement, which I didn't get. I just went unnoticed," Peyton said.

If only the Grambling track coach at the time could hear those words now. Alas, the track career of Oscar Peyton was delayed again, this time for a relatively lengthy period of time.

After college, Peyton worked for 31 years as a computer specialist and programmer for the federal government. While working, he still managed to stay active. He routinely went to the gym and played basketball a lot before it was too tough on his knees.

It was a routine visit to the doctor some years ago that made him realize he needed to change something in his life.

"I got a checkup and my cholesterol was around 200 so the doctor said 'You have to change your eating habits and exercise.' Since then, I've been feeling pretty good health-wise."

Despite his success in his first few years as a track competitor, Peyton experienced the pain that comes with picking up a new sport and having to train more often, exercise more often, and compete more often.

"The first three or four years I was getting injured every year, maybe a couple of injuries a year."

But with experience comes knowledge. Through high-level competition, Peyton has learned when to stop, how hard to train, and generally what he has to do to keep his body in peak physical condition. Even though his speed comes naturally, he isn't getting any younger. Taking excellent care of his body is becoming more important as the years go by.

"I've learned about how much my body can take before it begins to breakdown and I've learned how to listen to my body and read the signs for when an injury is about to occur and back off. The last few years, I've been running major injury-free."

I know what you're thinking in the back of your mind. Old guy, getting better with age, less injuries with age, he must be taking deer antler spray or some sort of performance-enhancing drug, right? Wrong. Leave that stuff to Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun.

Besides "an aspirin here or there," Peyton doesn't use any medication in order to compete. He doesn't plan on it either.

"At the point where I have to use a medication that might help me run better, that's when I'm gonna hang it up," he said.

Since entering the 2003 Games, Peyton has won gold in the 100 and 200 five straight times. But don't think he's getting complacent. He's still hungry for more gold.

"I know I don't wanna lose. I wanna keep the streak going so that's my motivation now for the Senior Games. I want to make it six consecutive Senior Games winning the 100 and 200."

If you get a chance, put your money on Oscar Peyton. You won't regret it.