Cowboys find a superhero

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Bronc riders Mitch Pollock, in black at left, and Jake Finlay, holding Noah Patterson, celebrate with announcer Ken Stonecipher, right, and others after the 5-year-old cancer patient won his night of mutton busting at the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo on Friday, May 6.

Bronc busters reach out to 5-year-old cancer patient, receive so much more

GUYMON, Okla. – Noah Patterson has a sparkling spirit and an infectious personality, one that transcends generations. He radiates joy, and he shares it easily.

He’s just 5 years old.

“When I first met Noah, he was very active and had a big smile on his face, and you wouldn’t have guessed what he’s gone through,” said Mitch Pollock, a saddle bronc rider from Winnemucca, Nevada, who met the boy last week shortly before the first performance of the 2022 Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo on Friday, May 6.

“People say it all the time: Superheroes don’t always wear capes. That night, a superhero was a 5-year-old boy who made everybody around him feel better.”

In January 2020, just a couple of months before his third birthday, Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He has received chemotherapy and other treatments at the Jimmy Everest Center at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City and will return May 17 for his final treatment. It’s been a long road for Noah and his family, his mom, Morgan Garcia, said this week.

“Noah has been a little warrior through this whole thing,” Garcia said. “I think he took it better than all the rest of us.”

He proved it on that Friday night. It worked out that the cancer combatant was able to attend the rodeo and be part of the mutton busting competition on the rodeo’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink night, a performance to help raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer. Garcia had set it up with Mitch Egger and Jeremy Carman, members of the Pioneer Days Rodeo committee and co-owners of Wild West Ford, which organized the sheep-riding signups.

“Noah is so strong-willed, and he has the most infectious personality,” his mom said. “He’s all over the place and loves to try new things. When I asked him if he wanted to ride a sheep, he didn’t hesitate a single bit, especially with his two new buddies, Jake and Mitch, by his side.”

About an hour and a half before he got on his sheep, Noah met with Pollock and another bronc rider, Jake Finlay, a national champion while competing at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. The two cowboys took their sidekick on a behind-the-chutes tour, showing the boy the ins and outs of the world of rodeo. Noah got to pet bulls and horses and see what it was like sitting in a bronc saddle.

He then escorted Pollock, Finlay and his mom into Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena, ready for mutton busting and his time to shine. Outfitted in a perfect pink shirt, he was helped onto his wooly ride by his bronc-riding buddies.

“Putting the vest on and his helmet, Jake said, ‘Don’t let go,’ ” Pollock said. “Noah said, ‘Don’t worry, guys; I’ll never give up.’

“When he said that, we just looked at each other. It made my eyes water up a little bit. It just goes to show even at that age, a little boy could make a huge impact on my life. When you think you have it bad, you look at what that little boy has gone through, and you count your blessings and turn every negative situation into a positive one.”

Noah rode his sheep, then kept riding. It was a will to win in so many ways for the youngster. It was a moment that signified the fight he’s been going through for the last 27 months. In June, doctors in Oklahoma City will remove his port, and life will become more normal for his family.

“It was reassuring to me that he will continue to do things, and leukemia won’t define him,” Garcia said.

No, it won’t. Noah was in the moment, riding livestock as if he’d done it his entire life. He has, in a way; for two-plus years, he rode out a storm of four-hour drives to the state’s capital and being invaded by drugs to help him rid his little body of a deadly disease. Monthly lab work shows the treatment has been working, and he’s spurred his way to a big-time score.

After he dismounted his sheep, he stood in line with the other mutton busters and awaited the report from announcer Ken Stonecipher, a longtime member of the rodeo committee. His ride was worth the most points, and Noah was named the night’s winner, earning a special buckle for him to wear.

“Before we started into the arena for the mutton busting, Noah looked at Jakes buckle and thought it was really cool,” Pollock said. “Jake said, ‘You could win one tonight.’ When Noah opened that up, the smile on his face and how big his eyes got … it was just so dang cool. That was another emotional time where I’m glad I had my sunglasses on. They were happy tears.”

“No matter what happened that night, I knew I’d already won. Maybe we were there to help Noah, but Jake and I were the lucky ones.”

Announcer and Guymon committeeman Ken Stonecipher helped coordinate a meeting between young cowboy Jace Sutherland, center, and his rodeo hero, Shad Mayfield.

Shad Mayfield may feel the same way, but not because of Noah Patterson. Mayfield, the 2020 world champion tie-down roper, arrived in Guymon on Wednesday, May 4. Upon pulling up to the arena, he was met by Stonecipher, who asked if Mayfield could visit with a young fan, Jace Sutherland.

“Jace’s grandma told me her grandson was getting bullied at school because he wants to be a cowboy and loves rodeo, but the kids tell him there are no Black cowboys,” Stonecipher said. “When she told me that, I invited him to slack and said, ‘We’ll dispel that thought.’ ”

Mayfield comes from a mixed-race home, a Black father and a white mother. In addition to winning the world title in 2020, the 21-year-old Mayfield has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo three times and is second in this year’s world standings, just behind John Douch, another Black cowboy.

“I put them together, and then we find out that this is not just a guy Jace wants to meet, but this is Jace’s rodeo idol,” Stonecipher said. “They met and talked, and then Shad told him, ‘Hey, buddy, I’ve been where you’re at.’ I think it was exactly what Jace needed.”

It seems so, given the ‘thank you’ message the sixth-grader left for Stonecipher: “It changed my life with your bewildering kindness.”

Cowboys tend to do that. Sure, their successes are predicated on what they do in the arena, but what they do outside the fence might make more of a difference … for those they reach and for those that reach them.

“That night, the whole time before I got on my horse, I thought about how lucky I was to spend an hour and a half with Noah,” Pollock said. “His attitude was to never give up, and I thought about it, and I’m sure Jake thought about it, too.

“Jake said, ‘Win or lose tonight, no matter what, we won because we got to spend time with a kid that changed our lives.’ Jake didn’t have a great night, but I still guarantee you he took more from Noah than anything. Who would have known a 5-year-old boy could change your life.

“He changed two lives that night.”

The best stories in rodeo aren’t always about 3.2-second steer wrestling runs or 90-point bull rides. The tales that are most remembered are about resilient boys like Noah or how a world champion of color helped a sixth-grader of color feel better about wanting to be a cowboy.

Those happened during the week of rodeo in the Oklahoma Panhandle.


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