By Ellen Nason
Oscar Peyton didn’t compete in sports in high school because he thought he was far too thin for his 5’11” frame and didn’t see himself as particularly fast.
A five-inch growth spurt after high school boosted his confidence. He ran with members of his college track and field team for fun but still wasn’t interested in competing. When he neared retirement age from his job as computer specialist with the federal government, he entered his first track and field competition at the Maryland State Senior Olympics. He won the 100-meter and 200-meter races and decided he might have some speed after all.
Peyton said his average time for the 100-meter in his mid-50s was 11.51, slightly less than two seconds behind Olympic champion Usain Bolt’s average time. Bolt, who has been setting world records for years, is still only 28. Peyton is 62.
“It makes me feel like if I was born and raised around his time, I think I’d give him a go for his money,” Peyton said with a smile.
Peyton said even though he loves getting medals, it is not the main reason he trains and competes.
“The first reason and primary reason that I’m doing this is for my own health and well-being,” said Peyton. Even if he stops competing, he said he will never stop running, training and improving his health.
The Humana Game Changer encourages everyone, no matter what age, to “get off that couch, find something you love doing and stick to it.”
Tom Burkhart, 70, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Pickleball made its debut at the National Senior Games in 2013 in Cleveland with 350 participants. There are 650 athletes competing in the sport this week at the 2015 National Senior Games, presented by Humana, in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
What is driving the popularity of the sport?
“It’s fast-paced and it’s fun,” said Humana Game Changer Tom Burkhart. “Even when the players mess up, they laugh – not a LOT – but they laugh.”
Burkhart, a retired teacher and principal, said he learned about the sport accidentally in 1980 when he was looking for something for his middle school students to play besides the typical team sports. He found a box in the school closet, opened it and discovered a new love: pickleball.
“It’s somewhat aerobic, but easier on the body than tennis or some other sports,” said Burkhart. “I do the best I can and have been successful even though I was never really an athlete and was a bit too shy to participate in team sports. I think that is what draws some others to the sport. It also has social benefits…it’s just fun.”
Burkhart’s wife, Susan, says she does not play the game but supports her husband as pickleball “groupie,” and has been motivated to work out at a local fitness center because of the change she has seen in her husband since he began playing pickleball competitively.
“He coached for 30 years, but he is more of an athlete now in his retirement than he ever was before,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful thing for him. He’s active and involved … he just loves this game.”
More National Senior Games stories and videos: