J.B. Mauney is the first to admit you have to be “a little crazy” to want to take on a bucking, 2,000-pound bull. But for this 27-year-old, 145-pound competitor, it’s all been worth it. In 2013, the North Carolina resident marked his ninth career year with the Professional Bull Riders by becoming its new World Champion (the first American since 2009). This weekend, Mauney returns to defend his title against 34 other hopefuls in a two-day Chicago Invitational. As this conversation proves, he’s no easy rider.
Q. Bull riding isn’t a conventional career. What inspired you to get in the saddle?
A: I grew up on a farm, so I rode horses since I was little. When I was three years old, they started letting me ride sheep, and I never looked back.
Q.Does the sport run in the family then?
A: My dad rodeo’ed. My brother-in-law rides bulls professionally like myself, and my sister and my wife run barrels.
Q. The matchups are only eight seconds, but they look terrifying. How did you get over the fear?
A: I never really had any since I was raised around it. I rode my first big bull when I was 13, and he roughed me up a bit so I got all the fear out of the way early. Once you do it for so long, it becomes routine — like working in an office.
Q. What has been your worst injury?
A: My list of injuries is probably longer than my list of accomplishments. When I was 18, just before I joined [PBR], I broke all my ribs on the right side of my body and lacerated my liver. The doctors said it should have probably killed me. I was out for eight months and had to get a real job working at a ball bearing plant; I don’t like being inside though so it inspired me to get back into the game real quick.
Q. What can lead to a wrong turn during the competition?
A: Sometimes you just end up in wrong place at the wrong time. Most people think the worst is when you get hit with the horns, but the most that does is cut you up. We have a surgeon on hand that comes to every one of the competitions; he’ll take you in the back during the break, sew you up, and you’re ready to go. But when you’re stepped on, you have nearly 2,000 pounds barreling down on you, and that’s not good.
Q. Looking back on your championship year in 2013, what was a significant moment?
A: At the first of the year, things weren’t going very good. I was beat up. I broke my leg in California and kept trying to ride with a cast. I never really take a break unless I have to, but my wife told me to stay home for a while, and I did. When I came back in July, I won the Calgary Stampede and my confidence returned and it continued from there.
Q. Do you have a love-hate relationship with the animals out of the ring?
A: They have a job to do, and we’ve got a job to do. They’re like people; they have different attitudes and personalities. Some you can pet and they are gentle, some you can’t even go near them because they hate people.
Q. Besides wrecks, what can people look forward to at the event this weekend?
A: If you come to the live event and see how huge and strong these bulls are, it’s something you can’t experience every day.