Orphaned as a young boy in London, wounded by German artillery in World War II and employed by Santa Anita Park since 1961, John Shear, the track's beloved Paddock Captain, will celebrate his 99th birthday between races with family, friends and co-workers on Friday, Jan. 17.
A former exercise rider, groom and assistant trainer who had originally aspired to be a jockey, Shear, who checks in at four feet, 11 inches and 104 pounds, gained national attention on March 12, 2011, when he threw himself into the path of a loose horse, potentially saving the life of a 5-year-old girl who was attending the races with her father.
“Horses are like homing pigeons,” Shear said in an interview following the incident. “When they're upset, they want to go home. So when I heard someone shouting 'Loose horse!,' I knew it would be heading our way as it tried to go back to the barn.”
Despite suffering multiple fractures to his pelvis, hip, back and cheekbone, along with internal bleeding that resulted in a significant loss of blood, Shear was back on the beat in Santa Anita's Paddock Gardens in less than a year, and at nearly 99 years of age, he continues to defy Father Time.
“I love what I do,” said Shear on Sunday. “I love the people, the horses and working outside. I still do 30 pushups every morning and I walk all the time. I've loved this place since I first came here in 1954 and I'm blessed to be able to do what I'm doing. I think if people got outdoors more often and stopped worrying about things none of us can control, they'd be much happier. I know I am.”
Shear and his wife Diane, who have one son, Michael, reside in nearby Sierra Madre, where Shear was feted during the city's 2011 Fourth of July Parade as a “Hometown Hero.”
So, does Shear have any advice for longevity?
“Find something you love, stay positive and exercise!”
John Shear will be honored with a race named in his honor on Jan. 17 and will be presented a birthday cake in the Winner's Circle between races.
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