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Blind LI girl stars at MSG sheep-riding contest

Bianca McEvoy, of East Norwich, rides a sheep

Bianca McEvoy, of East Norwich, rides a sheep while competing in a sport called Mutton Bustin' at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 8, 2010) Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Bianca McEvoy didn't decide to join Friday night's "mutton bustin' " competition until just a few minutes beforehand.

It turns out the 6-year-old's a natural.

Bianca, of East Norwich, joined a handful of Oyster Bay pee-wee football players taking part in a sideshow at the professional bull-riding event at Madison Square Garden this weekend. The adults ride bulls, but during a break, 6- and 7-year-olds climb aboard sheep.

>> VIDEO: Sheep-riding contest at MSG

>> PHOTOS: LI girl stars at sheep-riding contest

Mutton bustin' is popular at rodeos and state fairs in the West. That's where Roger Mullarkey's two children learned. Before the bull-riding show came to the Garden, the Oyster Bay resident got a call from an organizer looking for kids. He thought of his son's football team - aptly named the Rough Riders.

Each sheep rider gets a helmet, a protective vest, and a sheep that's been trapped in a cage and ready to rampage. The rider attempts to hold on, grabbing the wool underneath the front legs. As the sheep flies out of the opened gate, a good rider can hold on maybe six seconds.

Most last just a few moments, as did all of the first riders Friday night. Then came Bianca, whose triplet brother Steven plays on the team. Bianca is legally blind and sensitive to bright lights.

Her sheep shot into the dirt enclosure and Bianca clung tightly on top. Most of the crowd of more than 12,000 got to its feet and began roaring as she stayed on while the sheep kept running. Finally, the sheep ran out of room and still Bianca was in place.

Bianca dismounted, cracked a smile, and quietly walked back to her parents standing across the arena.

"My heart was pounding," said her mother, Renee McEvoy. "I kept saying, 'Hold on tight!' This is just a big, big, huge accomplishment just to get out there."

In the end, Bianca stole the show, though one of the Rough Riders almost made it the entire way. Asked how it felt, she shrugged, then smiled. "Good!" she said.

>> VIDEO: Sheep-riding contest at MSG

>> PHOTOS: LI girl stars at sheep-riding contest

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