Throwing the distance

Summer 2017
Roger Busch ’63 in a USA shirt throwing a discus

Photo by J Gregory Raymond

At age 76, Roger Busch ’63 is still breaking records.

Standing under a brilliant blue sky last June, Roger Busch ’63 twisted his torso and cocked the discus in his hand. As he unwound his body and hurled the round metal disc, he knew immediately the throw was a good one — but he had no idea how good. It sailed 143 feet, 10 inches at the USA Track and Field (USATF) East Region Championships in Chester, Pa., breaking an American record for throwers age 75–79 that had been set seven years earlier.

But Busch wasn’t done yet. Three weeks later, he won the USATF Masters National Championship in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a throw of 140 feet, 7 inches.

Then, last fall, he again won gold at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia, with a throw that flew to 141 feet, 8 inches. The second-place thrower that day lagged 12 feet behind.

The season was a triumph for Busch, who had shelved his discus after Colgate and didn’t pick it up again until 2002. “If you had told me then that I would win the national championships, set a national record, and win a world championship, I would have thought that inconceivable,” he said.

But Busch has been thwarting expectations his whole life. As a child growing up in Short Hills, N.J., he always had a ball in his hand. When a botched medical operation on his arm in high school benched him from the baseball team his senior year, he turned in desperation to the track coach, who introduced him to the discus. At 6 feet, 3 inches, with long arms, he was a natural. Within weeks he’d broken every school record and gone on to win the state championship.

Busch throwing the discus in a Colgate jersey on campus in 1963

Busch in 1963

Busch continued to throw at Colgate, and in April 1962, he set a college record of 165 feet and 8 inches, which still stands today. In addition to his physique, Busch attributes his success to meticulous attention to technique. After spinning twice, “you have to be on balance and have a solid connection between all of your major muscles — in your foot, leg, torso, shoulder, and arm — all working together to create an explosive force,” he said.

After graduation, Busch began a 40-year career as a public accountant and financial manager, eventually becoming CFO at a beverage company. Although he continued to jog and play basketball, he didn’t think about taking up discus again until he saw a newspaper ad about a masters competition close to his home in Greenwich, Conn.

He began practicing with his 2kg discus from college, only to be told when he arrived at the meet that masters over 60 only threw a 1kg disc. Switching it up on the spot, Busch won his first competition with a throw of 117 feet. Within seven years, he was throwing more than 150 feet again and winning national competitions. Busch explained that most masters throwers lose a meter a year after age 65, while he has lost only a third of that. “I am just getting worse at a slower rate than my competitors,” he said.

Already looking ahead to the next age bracket, Busch said, “If I am still throwing when I am 80, then I’ll be young again and have a shot at more records.”

— Michael Blanding