By: Justin Felisko
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Mauricio Moreira knelt down in the arena during the opening prayer of the PBR Air Force Reserve Cowboys for a Cause team bull riding event Saturday and closed his eyes.
The 22-year-old then thought of his close friend Amadeu Campos Silva.
“Today will be for you my friend,” Moreira, lifting his hand into the air, prayed. “I will ride for you. Enjoy the day. Hangout with God. Be good.”
Moreira then wiped the tears forming underneath his Ariat sunglasses and began to honor his friend the best way he could – riding for 8 seconds on top of the USS Lexington.
The 24 riders competing this weekend at Cowboys for a Cause had already decided to dedicate the entire $100,000 prize purse to Campos’ family earlier this week, but Moreira wanted to make sure they also put on a show for their fallen rider.
Campos was 22 years old when he was passed away a week ago after he was stepped on during the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event on Aug. 29 in Fresno, California.
RELATED: Remembering Amadeu Campos Silva
Moreira, who is only 9 months younger than Campos, then patted the memorial arm band on his right arm and made his way to the bucking chutes, committed to honoring his friend.
Moreira did just that by kickstarting Team Bad Boy Bowers (Moreira, Eli Vastbinder and Claudio Montanha Jr.) to an eventual victory by riding Leopold for 88.25 points during the opening minutes of the charitable bull riding competition on the historic aircraft carrier.
“I was thinking about Amadeu when I ride,” Moreira explained. “This has been hard because in Brazil we stayed together at a lot of rodeos. We traveled together and we were like family, making homemade meals of rice, beans and steak. We would talk about everything, about coming to the United States. You learn so much about a guy during those trips together.
“Because of him, I ride strong today.”
Montanha added, “Amadeu was one of my best friends. We want to bless his family and let them know we are thinking about them today.”
Moreira was unable to covert on Cold Chill (2.37 seconds) in the championship round, and Montanha was bucked off by Chiseled (5.82 seconds), but teammate Eli Vastbinder stepped up to push Team Bad Boy Mowers into the lead over Team South Point in the winner-take-all, final round with an 84.75-point ride on Game Day.
It was only three weeks ago in which Vastbinder split the Round 1 victory with Campos at the Springfield Invitational Velocity Tour event. The two riders actually were on the same flight later that weekend, and Vastbinder remembers sitting with Campos for a few hours as they tried to communicate as best they could despite the language barrier.
Vastbinder became a bit emotional prior to the bull riding this weekend when he looked at the group of bull riders behind him sitting under a tent in 100-degree heat on the flight deck of the historic “Blue Ghost.”
It was a no-brainer for Vastbinder to want to give up his check for Campos family but seeing the support from the entire locker room struck a certain chord for him.
“I’ve been thinking about it the whole week,” Vastbinder said, attempting to hold back tears. “I am just fortunate in my situation. I have a wife pregnant with twin girls and if anything were to happen to me, I know that I have a group of guys here that will do whatever they got to do to help take care of them. With a wife and family, it changes things a bit more for me. Five years ago, I probably wouldn’t feel the way I feel right now, but I now ride bulls for more than just me.
“We all know in this sport it is a possibility, but when it does happen it always seems to happen to a really good guy and it hits all of us hard.”
Vastbinder previously rode Panic Button for 82.5 points in Round 1 as Team Bad Boy Mowers entered the championship round in second place based on their 2-for-3 first-round showing.
Reigning World Champion Jose Vitor Leme (Team South Point) was the only other rider in the championship round to record a qualified ride – 84.25 points on Udder Lover.
Leme won Round 1 with a 90.75-point ride on Steel Wishes.
“For us, it is the least we could do for (Campos) family,” Leme said. “But it is hard because all of this money does not change the situation. It is very hard for us to ride this weekend because this is such a big loss for us. We were all very close to him and his family. It is not easy, but life keeps going and we need to keep working.
“I think every rider today remembered him today before getting on their bulls.”
Team Wrangler (Cody Jesus, Silvano Alves and Thiago Salgado) went 0-for-3 in the championship round to finish in third place.
Campos had a dream to one day buy his family their own ranch, and Alves said he is happy to see the riders help still make that dream a possibility.
“It is amazing we did this for him, but nothing can bring his life,” Alves said. “This is good to help finish his dream. All the bull riders come here for one dream – a World Championship. Amadeu wanted this too, but he also wanted to first come here so he could give his family, mom and dad, a good life. He wanted to buy them a ranch in Brazil. With the riders, the PBR and some sponsors, he will for sure be able to buy them that now.”
Following their victory Saturday, Moreira, Vastbinder and Montanha posed for some celebratory photos with big grins on their faces.
Moreira even jumped around on the dirt like a little kid.
He was finally able to let out a smile following a horrific week.
“This is an awesome experience,” Moreira concluded. “It is awesome to have a story that you ride on the ship and now I have a picture of me here. It is really awesome. To have teammates, it is really fun. You ride not just for you, but for your team.
“And today, I rode for Amadeu. He was a really good friend, and he is in a good place in my heart.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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