Oscar Peyton has never missed a National Senior Games competition since competing in his very first one at 50 years old — a year after his track and field career began.
This year, Peyton took home two more gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter races to add to his unblemished record during his eighth appearance at the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama.
Every two years, athletes age 50 and over come together to participate in more than 850 events in 19 sports. This year, more than 10,500 athletes are in Alabama for the games’ 30th anniversary that began June 2 and ends June 15.
The games rotate to cities across the country, which is one of Peyton’s favorite parts about competing since his start in 2003.
“I love going,” Peyton said. “I love competing. Every year, they try to make it interesting by holding it all over the country. You get to see the country.”
Peyton, undoubtedly a late bloomer in the sport, was 49 years old when he began to develop himself as a competitive athlete. Before that, becoming a track and field star was the furthest outcome from his mind because growing up it was not considered a viable career path.
“When I was coming up, you couldn’t make a living off of track and field unless you were Bruce Jenner or somebody on a box of Wheaties,” Peyton said. “I didn’t want to put all my effort into something I couldn’t live off of, so I didn’t pursue track and field back then.”
But Peyton, along with friends and family, always knew he had a gift when it came to running. “When I was younger, I used to outrun guys who ran track and field,” Peyton said.
The 64-year-old was born and raised in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana, 73 miles southwest of New Orleans, and stayed close to home to attend the historically black Grambling State University, about a four-hour drive from his hometown. After graduating, Peyton moved to Maryland, where he worked as a computer programmer until retiring in 2008.
With very little to do outside of his job, Peyton tried to remain active as much as possible. Even before retirement, Peyton found comfort in recreational sports, but a sedentary lifestyle in his early and mid-40s turned what used to be an enjoyable game of pickup basketball into a chore.
“I really had no intentions of [choosing track and field], but I was getting close to retirement and I just needed some activities that I would try occupy my time with,” Peyton said. “I was always fast, so, hey, why not track and field?”
When he made up his mind to take up track and field, Peyton already knew the journey ahead would be a tough one.
“The first few years were rough,” Peyton said. “At 49 years old, I had to qualify in Maryland to be able to compete in the Senior Games at 50. The first four years of training, I just kept getting injured because training is a high-risk activity for injuries. My muscles just weren’t used to it.”
Over the years, Peyton has dedicated his time to retraining his body and recognizing his limits. For the Senior Games, Peyton trained about three days a week at local high schools, and with a group of his friends. Most of his conditioning includes drills and sprinting with a few home workouts in between.
Peyton has reaped health benefits from his lifestyle as a conditioned athlete as well. Before training, Peyton suffered from elevated cholesterol levels and muscle pain. Now, Peyton’s cholesterol levels have been lowered and workouts help keep him moving. Two of his younger brothers have had heart surgery, but Peyton believes training has helped him avoid some of the health problems that run in his family.
“I’m not on any medications or anything,” Peyton said. “I haven’t had to go to the hospital for anything. It’s been a health benefit.”
As the week comes to a close, Peyton has no choice but to look forward to the next game. Track and field may not be for everyone, but Peyton hopes his peers will continue to remain active as they mature.
“I would encourage anybody in their golden years to get out and be active,” Peyton said. “Eating right, exercising, getting proper rest are the keys to a healthy lifestyle. The Senior Games is an avenue to give you the motivation to do just that.
“My goal is to try to be the best that I can be at what I’m doing, which is track and field. I’ve set records, and I want to continue to set records. When you set them, your name goes in the books. Long after you’re gone, your name is still there. All the elites that come behind you, they take note of that. And I want to set the bar high.”