The first time J.B. Mauney got on bull, he was 13 years old.It didn’t go well.“I got wrecked out,” said the now 26-year-old Mooresville native. “Boy I was nervous. The thing about bull riding is that you have to make that fear work for you, and my nerves got to me that first time. I got jerked down, hit in the face, hung up, dragged around and stomped.”Barely a teenager, Mauney’s conviction was put to the test. The boys who grew up in his neighborhood mostly flocked to NASCAR, where winners took victory laps and spun donuts on the infield grass.In bull riding, the winner – no matter how well he has performed – is still tossed to the dirt in the end.“All I wanted to do was get right back on another bull,” said Mauney.And his determination paid off: Last week Mauney won the Professional Bull Riders World Finals and claimed the $1 million bonus that goes with it. “I’m the second guy that ever won anything big in rodeo east of the Mississippi,” said Mauney. “It means a lot. It shows that we just don’t race cars out here.”By his own admission Mauney wasn’t all that talented when he began riding on a regular basis, but what he lacked in technique and skill, he made up for in effort.“Man, I tried my guts off,” he said. “It would get me hurt a lot more because I’d wind up underneath (the bull) and getting stomped and everything, but it’s kind of like dancing, the bull makes a move and you eventually learn to follow.”A week before Mauney, who was 18 at the time, was set to buy his Professional Bull Riders gear and join the tour, tragedy nearly struck.After being bucked to the ground, Mauney lay helpless as 1,600 pounds of steer rolled over his right side, breaking all his ribs and lacerating his liver.“They said at the hospital that it should have killed me,” said Mauney. “I spent about eight days in there.”Doctors told Mauney to not to ride again for at least eight months. Four months later, he was back at it.Eighteen events into this year’s PBR Built Ford Tough Series, Mauney had nothing to show for his efforts except a few broken ribs and a broken bone in his foot.What happened next came at the urging of his wife, Lexie, and was a first for Mauney.“I took a whole month off and never got on one bull,” he said. “I didn’t think about bull riding at all, and when I came back I had a whole new outlook and my body felt the best it has in years.”Mauney caught fire and stormed back to the top of the rankings, setting a PBR record in the process by winning four consecutive events.He also accomplished something many around the sport believed to be impossible. He conquered Bushwacker.A 1,700-pound bull that ESPN the Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson once called “unridable” and poetically described as being “built like a day-shift stripper: high ass and thick leg, swaying his wide hips without conviction or enthusiasm.”At the time of Mauney’s ride, on Aug. 17 in Tulsa, Okla., it had been four years and 42 attempts since anyone had lasted the eight seconds required to score on Bushwacker’s back. Mauney covered the bull for 95.75 points and won the event.“Those are the type of bulls that I like to get on,” he said, “the ones that everyone says can’t be ridden because I want to prove to myself that there’s not a bull out there that I can’t ride.”When Mauney’s not away riding, you can find him in Concord on most Sunday afternoons for the weekly bull riding at Stegalls Arena.Local Mooresville cattle farmers know that if they happen to lose any livestock through a broken fence, that Mauney is just a phone call away.“Farmers will call us when they have cows get out and we’ll take dogs and go catch them,” said Mauney, who was taught all the rodeo events by his father.“That’s one thing I was glad my dad made me learn,” he said. “When I was younger I really didn’t want to do the other events. I always just strictly wanted to ride bulls, but he told me that bull riding isn’t going to last forever, and I might as well learn these other events so that when I quit riding I can still make a living.”In 1995, a virtual unknown from North Carolina, Jerome Davis, emerged as one of bull ridings’ top young talents. He became the first rider from east of the Mississippi to win the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Championship.Three years later, a bull knocked the Archdale native unconscious and then threw him head first into the dirt, paralyzing him from the waist down.“The Carolina Cowboy,” as they called Davis, was 25 at the time of the accident. He’s 40 now.Despite his injuries, Davis has remained involved in the sport he loves, raising the very animals that took his ability to walk away, while also mentoring young riders.“I spent a lot of time with Jerome Davis,” said Mauney. “He’s been in a wheelchair, but (my friends and I) would get on bulls all the time in front of him. (Davis) couldn’t show us what we were doing wrong, but he could tell us.”When Mauney capped off the 2013 season with his second World Finals event title in Las Vegas in October, he also clinched his first-ever PBR World Championship.Davis, who provided several of the bulls for the event, was there to see it all.“He was out there at the finals, and I shook his hand every night when I walked out,” said Mauney, who rode six of six bulls in the five-day event.The win was an emotional one.“I’ve ended up second a couple of times, third a couple of times and I just always seemed to come up a little short,” he said. “To finally kind of get over that hump, there’s no better feeling.“Even when I was little if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be a world-champion bull rider,” Mauney said. “From day one, that’s what I wanted to be.”When Mauney returned home to Mooresville from Las Vegas, congratulatory signs lined his family’s fences. There was even a giant banner that read: “Congratulations World Champion!”After a long season, all he wanted to do was spend time with his family and rest up.The funny thing is roughly 100 cars a day have been driving by his house blowing their horns to congratulate North Carolina’s champion.It’s keeping Mauney up, but he doesn’t mind.
Saturday, Nov. 02, 2013
Reaching the top of bull-riding world
Seth Lakso is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Seth? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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