By: Justin Felisko
September 17, 2016
CHARLOTTE –Joseph Sanford felt a tap on his back that prompted the young boy to glance over his right shoulder. The 10-year-old’s jaw slowly dropped as two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney then wrapped his arm around him and said hello.
“I don’t believe it,” a near speechless Sanford muttered as reality began to set in.
The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native has been battling sickle cell anemia for his entire life, and he has been in Charlotte for the past year receiving treatment at Levine Children’s Hospital.
Sanford has received over 30 blood transfusions and undergone multiple surgeries in his lifetime.
He and his mother, Clarissa, have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House since Lil’ Joe underwent a stem cell transplant on May 12, while his father, Joe, has traveled back and forth between Charlotte and Baton Rouge.
Lil’ Joe had one of his dreams come true Friday night when his favorite cowboy came out of nowhere to surprise him outside the locker room before the start of the Charlotte Invitational.
“He didn’t have a whole lot to say,” Mauney said with a big grin. “He was at a loss of words there for a minute. He got more talkative once I sat down. The first startle wore off I guess.”
Mauney gave Sanford a J.B. Mauney custom belt buckle and autographed Sanford’s cowboy hat. The two then sat and chatted for close to 10 minutes about all things PBR as the Sanford’s looked on in pure joy.
For a few minutes, the kid could just be a kid and hang out with his idol.
“He has been doing pretty good and he said his dream was to meet me,” Mauney said. “They called me and asked if I could help out and I got them connected with PBR.”
Sanford’s “Dream Experience” was set up through Dream On 3, a non-profit organization in Charlotte that brings sports dreams to life for qualified children by creating personal experiences with their favorite athletes, sporting event, or sports team.
“I can’t stop looking at this buckle,” Sanford said. “I want to put mine on like his.”
Sanford then asked what Mauney’s favorite bull rides during his career have been and, of course, three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker came right to mind.
Mauney ended Bushwacker’s PBR record Built Ford Tough Series buckoff streak (42) with a 95.25-point ride in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2013.
It was the only time Mauney ever successfully rode Bushwacker in 13 showdowns at all levels of competition.
“He put a few scars on my chin,” Mauney said.
Sanford then listened wide-eyed as Mauney recalled his attempt on Bushwacker at J.W. Hart’s PBR Challenge in Decatur, Texas, in 2011 when the lights at the outdoor arena blew out while Bushwacker bucked off Mauney into the Texas darkness.
“It didn’t go so good for me,” Mauney said with a chuckle.
Sanford responded, “Wow!”
Mauney said he never really expected his rivalry with Bushwacker to end up being such an inspiration to a kid going through a life-threatening disease.
“No, I didn’t at first,” he said afterward. “I was doing that for me. It was a pride kind of deal. I wasn’t going to give up. With young kids like that, they need to fight and can’t give up. I guess they watch that and they see I kept getting on him, kept getting on him, kept getting on him and kept trying.
“If it helps them out, then it is meaning a lot more than I ever thought it would.”
Just before Mauney ended his meeting with Sanford to head to PBR sports medicine, Sanford had one more request for the No. 3 bull rider in the world.
Mauney joined the Sanford family and members from Dream on 3 for a special chant. On the count of three, they all raised their hands toward the sky and yelled, “Dream!”
Sanford also had a special guest earlier in the week at the Ronald McDonald House when Tyler Harr showed up on Thursday.
Harr and Sanford played checkers, shot pool and Sanford even showed Harr how he would ride a bull on a rocking horse.
“It was amazing,” Harr said. “I always wanted to do something like that and visit the Ronald McDonald House. I went there hoping to make his day and he ended up making mine.”
One of the hardest parts for Harr was trying to not to spoil the surprise and blurt out that Sanford was going to meet his idol his weekend.
“Knowing how much it was going to mean for him to meet J.B., it was so hard for me to not tell him he was going to meet him,” Harr said. “The whole time we were sitting there I was thinking, ‘You are going to meet him.’ It was cool knowing his dreams were about to come true.”
At the end of his visit, Harr became emotional when he read a handwritten letter from the Sanford family thanking him for visiting their son.
“That was probably the one time where I really had to try not to breakdown,” Harr said. “The cameras were on me and cowboys don’t cry. I had to suck it up. I quit reading it and finished reading it when I was alone.”
Harr called Sanford an inspiration.
“Just to see somebody that is that good of a sport about the troubles in his life and stuff,” the 26-year-old said. “He don’t let anything get him down. He is fighting hard and he ain’t never give up. He is beating a disease that gave him so much trouble. He wasn’t going to lay down and let it happen. He is in good spirits and he is an all-around good kid.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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