PUEBLO, Colo. – J.B. Mauney was a little older than 18 when he could barely get up off his parents couch in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Twenty-four hours earlier he was violently stepped on at a 2005 open bull riding in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Mauney, whose parents were on vacation, had called a friend to come help him stand as the burning sensation inside his guts was doing everything imaginable other than oozing out his belly button.
The skin-and-bones bull rider eventually stood up and glanced down at his stomach.
“I had a big knot in my belly,” Mauney recalled. “It looked like someone cut open a volleyball in half and stuck it on my belly.”
Still unsure of what was wrong, other than knowing he had broken his ribs, Mauney headed to his grandmother’s house for some sense of guidance.
His insides were on fire, his mind was racing and he was doing all he could to not admit to himself that something was wrong.
Well, something was definitely wrong.
Something was seriously wrong.
Grandma said he should probably head to the doctor’s office.
The doctor’s office then added that the young bull rider should head to the hospital.
At the hospital, Mauney’s mind began to race even faster. He had never been seriously hurt in his bull riding career, or his life for that matter, and he started to think about one thing his mother, Lynne, told him.
“My mom was kind of mad at me because I wouldn’t go (to the hospital) the night it happened,” J.B. said. “I said, ‘I am fine.’
“She said, ‘Well, if you mess up something internally it can kill you.’
“I said, ‘Like what?’
“She said, ‘Well, if you lacerate your liver that will kill you.’”
A few minutes later, doctors returned to strap Mauney to a stretcher and place him in a neck brace.
‘What is going on?’ he asked.
Doctors responded, ‘Well, you lacerated your liver. The surgeon will be in in a minute.’
“The first thing that pops into my head is, ‘Well, I am dying.’ I am freaking out.”
Mauney did not die and surgery went just fine.
He is now a two-time World Champion and is no stranger to the bumps, bruises, broken bones, torn ligaments and multiple other injuries that have accompanied him in his soon-to-be 11-year Built Ford Tough Series career.
Just this past season, Mauney contended with a torn left ACL, a near-broken ankle and many more undocumented injuries.
“Like a cat, I got nine lives I guess,” Mauney said. “There ain’t too many more left I believe.”
It is one of the reasons why Mauney is one of the main subjects of Sunday’s one-hour documentary on CBS, “PBR: Danger on the Dirt,” which takes viewers inside the brains of the toughest athletes in professional sports and behind the scenes of the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Professional bull riding is a sport that can kill its athletes within seconds, and it is a reality that Mauney understood at a young age.
He learned about it firsthand just before he headed into surgery more than 10 years ago.
“The surgeon comes in and talks to me, and I told her what happen,” Mauney said. “She told me, ‘I will put it to you like this. You should have made it five feet after he stepped on you and you should have been dead.’
“I said, ‘Well, good thing I am not.’”
Mauney then flashes his famous grin, which is sometimes viewed as more arrogance than humility, after re-telling the story of his first major injury inside the locker room of the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania this past September.
Close friend Stormy Wing shakes his head in disbelief. He has heard the story before, but the gravity of the situation still hits home.
J.B.’s father, Tim, remembers the astonishment of doctors when they learned that his son hadn’t gone to the hospital right away.
Tim also flashes a smile, one his son must have inherited from his father, and then laughs when asked about his son’s lacerated liver.
“The doctors couldn’t believe he got his liver lacerated and waited until the next day,” Tim said. “He never would say a whole lot about being hurt. When he was younger starting in the PBR, or going to a bunch of those amateur deals, you never did hear him complain a bit. You would think, ‘Well, he can’t be going to be able to ride next week and he would always come back.’
“He says you can put pain out of your thought for 8 seconds.”
Tim understands the severity of the sport.
That deal lasted about a week.
“People say, ‘Do you get worried?’ Yeah I get worried, but he knows more about it than I do, and I back him for what he does. He loves doing it. You can get hurt doing anything.”
Deep down, Tim always knew his son was going to be a professional bull rider.
“He had a bucking barrel when he was young in the barn and he would ride that thing every day,” Tim said. “It would roll and do all kinds of stuff. If you couldn’t find him, that is where he was at. Like going through high school, J.B. (was) a good calf roper and team roper and he steer wrestled.
“His butt just wasn’t big enough for steer wrestling, but he always liked bull riding and I knew that would be the way he go. When he turned 18 he has been gone ever since.”
J.B. had to go for follow-up appointments every six weeks following the surgery.
He admits he was nervous in the weeks and months following the injury.
“They told me if I started back early, it wouldn’t heal completely,” Mauney said. “A bull’s horn could hit me and kill me. It could make it rupture.”
Finally after four months, he had enough.
He was tired of working at a ball-bearing plant. Prior to the injury, Mauney was competing at open bull ridings in North Carolina to save enough money so that if he struggled early on in his PBR career, he could stay on the road and not have to go home empty-handed with a depleted bank account.
“I kind of debated back and forth and finally I was tired of working,” Mauney said. “I said ‘shit’ and started getting back on practice bulls. Once I got back on two or three, I got back into the groove of everything and the rest I forgot about.”
1995 PRCA bull riding champion and 1998 PBR Ring of Honor inductee Jerome Davis had been a mentor to Mauney throughout his childhood and was in attendance in Raleigh when one of his top prodigies was stepped on.
When he saw Mauney return to bull riding a few months later, it erased any doubts about how talented this Mauney kid truly was.
“You can watch a lot of guys after that and they are done,” Davis said. “I have seen a lot of guys that have a lot of talent that are 19 or 20 years old that are fearless, but to get your guts stepped in and something serious happens or get your head stomped on – I could tell he had determination and wanted to be a champion.”
Mauney started with a few practice bulls before competing at a couple of open bull ridings. He then made his PBR debut at the Lexington, Kentucky, Touring Pro Division event in December 2005.
Two months later, he finished 3-for-3 for a second-place finish in Portland, Oregon, during his BFTS debut.
Mauney’s phone rang a week following Portland.
“I had come home and the doctors had called me that following week to tell me to come in to release me so I could go back to riding.
“I told them Dr. Mauney released me and I hung up the phone.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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