Pretty sure it was after he told me the story about flying to Detroit to study Bill Laimbeer’s shattered face. No, it was after he talked about playing trumpet at The Jazz Kitchen.
Come to think of it, it could’ve been when he offered me the phone number to Augusta National’s famed Butler Cabin, just to prove he once spent the night there. Had breakfast with men in green jackets. Played the uber-exclusive course where they hold the Masters.
No, wait. I think it was when he said something about driving an Uber car more than 7,000 times around Indianapolis. Or talking his way into the cockpit on a trans-Atlantic flight of the Concorde, which flies at Mach 2, and sitting in the jump seat as it landed at Kennedy.
Or meeting Jesse Owens.
Look, the stories start to run together. All I know is, we hadn’t even gotten around to discussing my reason for calling – 50 years ago he was one of the fastest men in the world, setting an Indiana record that will never be broken – when I told former Brebeuf Jesuit sprinter Clyde Peach that his life would make a great movie. And did, actually: “Forrest Gump.”
He laughed. Delightful man, Clyde Peach.
“You know, exactly – you never know what you’re going to get,” Clyde Peach said. “I’ve told all my kids: Don’t be afraid to turn over a stone. Who knows what’s on the other side?”
* * *
Speed was on the other side.
Speed always was there for Clyde Peach, speed as unique and unexpected as his name. This happened years ago in Las Vegas: Peach was at Caesars Palace, shooting dice with buddies, when one of them said something supportive like, “Come on, Clyde!”
And the croupier, he looks up and says, “Only one white Clyde I know – fastest white guy in the world. Clyde Peach!”
“Black guys always called me that,” Peach says of having world-class speed in a sport dominated by African-American sprinters. “When (the croupier) said that, my friends around the table just said, ‘Wow.’ ”
Stories for days, Clyde Peach has. And he has speed for an eternity.
In the 1960s races were measured in yards, not meters, and Brebeuf senior Clyde Peach ran the 100 yards in 9.5 seconds at the 1966 Indiana state meet – shattering the state mark and falling one-tenth of a second short of Jesse Owens’ world record of 9.4 set in 1933.
Peach had met Owens the previous summer, at a national AAU meet where Peach won the 100 and 220. That got him an audience with Owens, the four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympics, and Peach remembers telling Owens what an honor it was to meet him.
Then he added: “I hope I break your records some day.”
Legendary football coach Dick Dullaghan, fresh out of Butler, was one of 6,800 fans at that 1966 state meet at Tech Stadium. He remembers watching Clyde Peach. Fifty years later, he remembers.
“He was just shot out of a cannon,” says Dullaghan, who went on to coach football at Ben Davis, Carmel and Bishop Chatard and win eight state titles. “He wasn’t a little bit fast. He was really fast. As I get older some memories run amok, but outstanding people who you watch compete, if you see it live, you don’t forget. This was phenomenal. Nobody expected it. He was a little (bleep). And he ran like no other.”
Peach was decades ahead of his time, setting a record in the 100-yard dash that still stood in 1980 when Indiana switched to meters. The 100-yard dash will never be run again; Peach’s record will stand forever.
Peach’s 100-yard mark converts to 10.38 seconds for 100 meters, which would be the second-fastest time in state history – 50 years later.
“He was an icon,” says former IU track coach Marshall Goss, director of the Indiana Track and Field Hall of Fame in Terre Haute. “If we hadn’t changed this distance, we would still talk about Clyde Peach all the time. He should be on the same plateau as Oscar Robertson. He was that good.”
The sprinting story of Clyde Peach is surreal, including the way it ended. He went to Baylor, setting Southwest Conference records and tying Jesse Owens’ mark of 9.4 and then surpassing it at 9.2. By then Bob Hayes owned the 100-yard world record at 9.1, but Peach had made good on his schoolboy comment to Jesse Owens.
A few years later, on one of the fastest nights in the history of sprinting, Clyde Peach ran the race of his life.
And decided he was finished.
* * *
They call it the Night of Speed. It was the 1968 U.S. outdoor track and field championships at Sacramento, Calif. Hughes Stadium was a fast track, dry clay, and on the night of June 20, 1968, three men broke the world record – becoming the first three 100-meter sprinters to beat 10 seconds: Jim Hines, Ronnie Ray Smith and Charles Greene. They clocked 9.9.
Clyde Peach ran a 10.1 that night, a personal best and just off the previous world record. And he couldn’t get out of the semifinals.
“I’d gone as far as I was going to go,” Peach says, “and I stopped. That was the pinnacle. That was the best in the world. I’d gotten there, and I just went, ‘You know, I’m done.’ That was fun, but I needed an education.”
He stayed at Baylor, dropped out of the Physical Education program and got an accounting degree. That was 1971. What happened next?
Everything happened next. Peach joined his father’s orthotics company, designing prosthetics and braces. He took up flying, owned a handful of planes, flew them for business and one time flew his pressurized P-210 to Detroit at the behest of the Pacers – who asked him to study Bill Laimbeer and the mask protecting his broken bone. This was late in the 1995-96 season, and Pacers star Reggie Miller had a broken orbital bone. Peach did the recon work, but Miller eventually chose to play in a pair of Oakley sunglasses, returning for a Game 5 elimination loss to Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.
Peach kept going. He made braces for athletes at Butler and Indiana and Purdue. And Texas and Duke and the Toronto Raptors. And for ex-Pacer Dale Davis. And his orthotics business, Indiana Brace, that was just one thing he did.
Peach sold alfalfa cubes for horse feed. He sold a one-handed Japanese toilet-paper holder for people with arthritis. He was an entrepreneur, lecturing in 1988 at the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce on this topic: “The real and imagined fears of an entrepreneur.”
As if Clyde Peach is scared of anything. As a teen he led Clyde Peach and his Fuzzy Five at a Brebeuf talent show. All these years later he plays trumpet every day, usually for himself but sometimes for bands around town, and once as a solo artist at the Jazz Kitchen.
He took an online computer science course at Harvard, and another course called Philosophy of the Japanese. “Working on my mental agility,” he says.
He doesn’t own planes anymore, just rents one from time to time “to bore holes in the sky.”
“I get bored,” he says.
Which is how he became an Uber driver. He’s been doing it for years, tracks his rides and says he’s done more than 7,000.
“When I don’t have anything to do, I turn the damn thing on,” he says of his Uber app. “I like to be with people. Uber keeps you invested in the city.”
He’s 68 years old and driving for Uber and playing trumpet and making braces in the workshop behind his two-bedroom bungalow in Meridian-Kessler. He plays golf, though he’s no longer the 8-handicap he was in the late 1980s when he took a Leer with his buddy and business partner, Methodist Sports Medicine founding partner John McCarroll, to Augusta for a few rounds at the home of the Masters.
And when Clyde Peach runs into someone who recognizes his name, he’ll reminisce about the days when he was faster than anyone in this state. He scored just one touchdown in his high school football career, returning the opening kickoff almost 100 yards for a TD in 1965 against Ben Davis. He looked at the clock and saw nine seconds had elapsed. He might not have been much of a football player, but man was he fast.
“I never considered myself an athlete,” Clyde Peach says. “I couldn’t shoot a basket or catch a ball. I could do one thing, and I did it really well. I could run in a straight line.”
His life after track? Not so linear.
“I just love living,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of fun things in my life.”
A box of chocolates, that one.