By: Justin Felisko
OCALA, Fla. – Apper’s Mind Freak could have backed down on Sunday afternoon once he turned into Joao Ricardo Vieira’s normally lethal wheelhouse.
Most of the time, when a bull turns into Vieira’s left riding hand, it is close to game over. However, Apper’s Mind Freak was not going to quit against the perennial world title contender, bucking him off in 7.4 seconds in the championship round of Sunday’s competition at the PBR Monster Energy Invitational.
You can bet the late Mary Apper was watching from up above with a smile on her face.
“Mind Freak bucked so good,” Vieira said. “I have never seen him buck so hard. This week I think he was bucking for Mary. I met her before. I am sad she passed away.”
In fact, it was one year ago (January 19, 2020) when Vieira rode Apper’s Mind Freak for 90.25 points in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“Apper’s Mind Freak bucked awesome today!!!!” Apper wrote on Facebook last year. “I love him so much and am so proud of him! Also congrats to JRV on an outstanding ride!! #appersmindfreak #kbarc #heisalwaysa50tome”
Apper had one final opportunity to talk to her namesake bull when Kenny and Cristy McElroy Facetimed Apper around Christmastime before her passing on Jan. 14 following a three-plus-year battle with cancer. She was 39 years old.
“She wasn’t doing well then, and we knew that,” Kenny said Sunday with a heavy heart. “We got to Facetime her and got her out to the barn to see Freak. He came right to the phone when he heard her voice. It was just crazy. She told him she loves him and that he gets to go back to work soon.”
Apper’s Mind Freak bucked off two of the top riders from the 2020 season during this past weekend’s season-opener in Ocala. Not only did Mind Freak take down Vieira in 7.40 seconds, but he also dispatched 2018 World Finals event winner Marco Eguchi in 2.75 seconds.
In fact, Apper’s Mind Freak has a streak of 11 consecutive buckoffs since Vieira rode him last year in New Hampshire.
“It was really hard this past weekend, and for him to perform the way he did was outstanding,” McElroy said. “There is a lot of Mary in that bull, and he will continue to be that rank, if not ranker.”
K-Bar-C Bucking Bulls also told Apper on Christmas they would name one of Mind Freak’s calves Apper’s Legacy in her honor.
“She started crying, then I started crying,” Kenny said. “I just think it is a great way to cherish a hero. She touched so many people’s lives, including ours. It was just hard.”
The outpouring of memories and stories about Apper has flooded social media since the diehard PBR fan passed away last week.
PBR CEO and Commissioner Sean Gleason said during this weekend’s CBS Sports Network broadcast that nearly everyone he talked to in Ocala mentioned how they knew Apper and what kind of positive impact she had on them.
Apper was a PBR fan for the last 25 years. She got connected with the McElroys when she visited the K-Bar-C Bucking Bulls ranch in 2019 as part of the PBR’s Premium Experiences tour in Ohio while she was in the state to receive treatment for cancer.
Cristy McElroy and Apper had developed a friendship via social media earlier in the year, and the two stayed in contact until Apper finally met the McElroys in person.
During Apper’s visit, she had the opportunity to meet all the K-Bar-C Bucking Bulls, including her personal favorite, Big Black.
Apper, however, unexpectedly made a special connection with Mind Freak.
“Then the more she was here, the more she kind of took to Mind Freak,” Kenny said in 2019. “She had that sparkle in her eyes. It is kind of crazy because Mind Freak took to her, and he is kind of the same way. He is real personable and you can love on him. He took to her real quick. I think she fell in love with him here.”
A few days later, Cristy received a message from Apper.
“She said, ‘I still love Big Black, but I am really having a bull crush on Mind Freak,’” Cristy said.
That got Kenny, Cristy and their daughter, Josie, thinking.
What could do they do to help encourage Apper in her bout against cancer?
Apper had previously said that she would love to own a bucking bull someday but didn’t have the means to do so.
Kenny knows how inspirational his bulls – Uppercut, Who Dat, King Lopez and Cool Spot – were for him during his own battle. He believes that having something else to focus on during his recovery from colon cancer helped him continue to stay positive during those hard and trying days.
He wanted to give Apper that same added boost.
Therefore, K-Bar-C Bucking Bulls decided to rename Mind Freak as Apper’s Mind Freak in support of Mary.
“I have gone through the same thing she is going through, and I know how hard it is,” Kenny said at the time. “With my family and friends – these bulls helped me the most. I know if Mary had something like this, she can stay positive and have something to look forward to.”
Kenny’s deep respect for the military – his father served in Vietnam and his grandfather in WWII – also influenced the decision.
Apper joined the U.S. Navy in 2006 and was a Damage Control Petty Officer First Class at the time of her medical retirement in 2017.
She had been deployed five times, four of which came aboard the USS Chafee (DDG-90) and once on the ground in Afghanistan.
According to the McElroys, Apper had received numerous awards for her service, including the National Defense Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Navy Accommodation Medal (four times), NATO ISAF Medal and Expert Marksmanship Medals for both the pistol and rifle.
Kenny believes the warrior mentality Apper had is a characteristic her namesake bull will continue to buck with throughout his career.
“He has a great demeanor, but when it is time to go to battle, it is all game,” Kenny said. “I see a lot of that in that bull. Back here in the pens, he is a big baby, but as soon as he hits that alleyway, it is all game. It is business.
“I think that is what really kind of drew Mary to him. He has been that caliber since he was younger, and I think the bull keeps getting better every year, and he will continue to make Mary proud.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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