Longtime Santa Anita paddock guard John Shear, who was seriously injured while protecting a young girl from a loose horse on March 12, said he would be back in action on opening day Dec. 26.
The 91-year-old Shear suffered multiple fractures, including a broken pelvis, as well as life-threatening internal bleeding when struck by the runaway horse as he shielded the girl. Following a lengthy hospitalization, he has been exercising regularly at a local gym, readying for a comeback.
“My doctor said I’m okay to come back to work,” said Shear during a visit to the Santa Anita press box Dec. 22. “I’ll be back at my same job, which is paddock supervisor. I’ve been doing a lot of physical therapy and I can’t wait to get back to work, to see all the people.”
“I’ve been going (to physical therapy) three days a week and I’m doing a lot of back and leg stretches. I’m also doing 10-pound curls with each arm and except for my left knee, I think I’m 100%.”
Shear, a former hot walker, groom, exercise rider, and trainer, has been employed seasonally at Santa Anita since Dec. 23, 1961.
“At that time, I was working in the parking lot, but I wanted to be around the people and the horses,” said the English native.
Asked what he’s missed most during his period of convalescence, Shear was quick to respond.
“I’ve missed the people the most. Just talking to everyone. I have people come up and they say they can’t believe I’m still here, that they remember me from when they used to come to the races with their parents or grandparents.
“I miss the camaraderie of being around the jockeys and everyone who works here. I love Santa Anita and I love coming to work here,” Shear added.
Santa Anita president George Haines said he's glad Shear is back.
“John is a fabulous person and a great employee,” Haines said. “Having him back with us on opening day, after all that he’s been through, is a dream come true and we know there are many, many people who are looking forward to seeing him back at work.”
As he marks his 50th anniversary working at the track, Shear admitted, “My wife and my son both want me to retire. But what am I going to do? I’m not going to just sit home and look at four walls. I told my family that I’m not on any timetable. I’m taking each year as it comes and I’ll see how I feel.
“Right now, I can’t wait for Monday, it’s going to be special.”