We’re talking athletic comebacks and performances after the hair has turned gray or the calendar has turned past 40.
Foreman won a world heavyweight title at 45, Favre fell a game short of the Super Bowl at 40 and Torres was the oldest ever at 41 to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team.
Roger Buening, 48, thought ‘why not’ after landing at Canterbury Park for the first time this year.
“I galloped a couple of horses and the bug bit me,” he said. “I knew it would happen if I came back to the racetrack.”
Buening had not ridden since 2000 following a racetrack accident. He wound up in Florida and was still there when a conversation with Canterbury rider Rusty Shaw lured him north this spring.
Buening arrived in Shakopee eager to gallop horses and work the starting gate. The gallop job fell through soon after his arrival but he knew it was only a matter of time anyway. “I knew he would ride again before he got here,” said Shaw, who has known Buening for years. “He’s won a lot of quarter horse races, and I finished second to him a lot of times.”
Buening had won five races and was on the favorite in a sixth race when his horse went down and he suffered a fractured hip socket racing in Canada 12 years ago. He hadn’t raced since. He hadn’t been at the racetrack since, but the injury had little to do with the respite.
“It wasn’t as bad as it sounds,” he said, “but it gets cold up north. I went to Florida and it was so nice there during the winters that I never left.”
He had a steady job at a farm with a salary and all was well.
“The money was so good that I stayed with it for 12 years,” he said. Then the crash began. “The horse business turned upside down there, the guy sold one of his farms and I got a call from Rusty saying I could gallop here and work the gates.”
The gallop job didn’t work out. “The guy didn’t want to pay me,” said Buening, “but after I had galloped a couple I just knew I was going to ride again anyway.”
There was one not so small concern, however. Buening weighed 155 pounds.
“I had some weight to take off,” he said.
“Oh, yeah, he was pretty big when he first got here,” said Shaw.
Buening shed 30 pounds in the three weeks he worked on the starting gate.
He hasn’t taken long to find the groove again. Getting good mounts has been another matter.
“Everything is pretty much the same. The horse business doesn’t change much, although there’s quite a bit more money now,” he said. “It’s tough picking up good horses, though. Everybody knows the riders who’ve been here and it’s hard to get into a barn. It will come around, though.”
That’s one advantage of age, the knowledge and history one often acquires along the way, the ability to withstand the dry spells.
A native of Missouri, Buening began riding at 16 in Oklahoma. “I rode at Blue Ribbon Downs, all over Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oklahoma.”
Buening’s wife, Andrea, has thrown her full support behind his decision to climb in the saddle again.
“She was surprised. But she supports me 100 percent,” he said.
Buening was reminded of people like Foreman, who has made a small fortune over the years fighting and endorsing products. Buening doesn’t have any illusions about making that kind of money, although a guy can certainly dream.
Maybe, just maybe… nah, nobody would ever buy a grill with an athlete’s name on it.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.