Golden Circle of Champions

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Golden Circle of Champions

The Golden Circle of Champions, was founded in 2016 in conjunction with the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo to raise awareness and provide funds to help those children who are battling cancer. Through donations and fundraising efforts, support is provided directly to the families to fulfill their most urgent needs: paying bills, buying medicine and caring for their family.

The California Rodeo Salinas has been participating in the Golden Circle of Champions program since 2018. The program was regional (in Santa Maria only) until 2018 when it was expanded to include 20 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeos that were able to sponsor a child to receive a trip to Las Vegas to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. These children, between the ages of 6 and 14 years of age who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer or associated illness, and their families are honored at an annual banquet and paired with professional rodeo athletes who teach the children about rodeo and spend quality time with them. The children and their families then attend a performance of the rodeo where they can cheer their new friend, the professional rodeo athlete they met at the banquet, on.

Recently, the California Rodeo Salinas designated the final performance of the 2023 California Rodeo Salinas the Golden Circle of Champions Day, and all four of the past golden champions attended to help spread awareness for this cause. Isabella Varela was the 2018 champion, Julian Castillo was the 2019 champion, Maddie Owens was the 2021 champion and Olivia Ingram was the 2022 champion. One of the unexpected outcomes of this program and bringing these children together is the bond they have developed as they work to help the California Rodeo promote this program. Moving forward, the California Rodeo Salinas plans to host more events to bring the champions together as well as to fund opportunities to advance their mental health.

Save the date for a fundraiser barbecue on March 7, 2024.

2023 Kelly Mata Navarro

Kelly Mata Navarro - 2023 Golden Circle delegate
Kelly Mata Navarro is eleven years old and has survived cancer twice. She was diagnosed in November 2019 with Ewing Sarcoma on her right femur. Kelly had Kelly Mata Navarro, at the tender age of eleven, has demonstrated unparalleled resilience in the face of adversity, having triumphed over cancer not once, but twice. In November 2019, she was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma affecting her right femur. Undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead, Kelly underwent a hip replacement, necessitating the removal of her leg bone and the installation of a prosthetic.

Following rigorous treatment, Kelly celebrated clean scans. However, the cruel reality of cancer returned in November 2022. With unwavering courage, she confronted the disease once more and emerged victorious. Currently, Kelly is undergoing a clinical trial in Columbus, Ohio, symbolizing not just her personal resilience but also her contribution to the ongoing fight against cancer.

Beyond her battles, Kelly enjoys spending time with her pug, Vaquero, and expresses herself through the art of dance. Her creativity knows no bounds, and she aspires to channel that creativity into a future career as a designer. As she embraces life with a tenacious spirit, Kelly's family fervently hopes and prays that the cancer never returns, allowing Kelly the opportunity to pursue her dreams unhindered.

HELP THE CAUSE----donate below

DONATE to Golden Circle of Champions
DONATE to Golden Circle of Champions
Founded in 2016, the Golden Circle of Champions was conceived to raise awareness and provide funds to help those children with cancer who are in need.
Donations made here are separate from Drive-Thru Dinner Fundraiser. Both go towards the Golden Circle.

Golden Circle of Champions logo

Nomination Form

The California Rodeo Salinas can choose ONE cancer survivor and their family to attend the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each year.

If you know someone who should be considered (age 6-14 who has been diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening related illness), please fill out the form below.

These nominations will be considered for 2024.


Oliva Ingram - 2022

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Olivia Ingram, eleven years old, of Salinas California is the very definition of grit. Watching her play with her friends at her recent birthday party you would have never guessed it, but Olivia was diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of two and a metastatic brain tumor at the age of three. Proving herself a fighter she has undergone three stem cell transplants and six rounds of intensive chemo. She has had multiple brain surgeries that have required her to relearn to walk and talk three times since she was born. This early fight has taught her to never use the word quit. When she was six years old she went to visit her dad in the hospital, after he nearly lost his leg, and her first words for him were “you’ll be fine”. Olivia excels at school and loves sports. At home she is the middle child with two brothers who are very close in age. She loves them both dearly, but they know who the boss is. Her passion is teaching her cat Chloe new tricks, art projects and she admires architecture, with aspirations of one day being a fine home architect.

Maddie Owens-2021

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Maddie Owens of Winton, CA is a fun-loving, social young lady who is always up for a prank! She will try just about anything once and horses are her first love. She has dreamed about being a barrel racer for years and also enjoys crafts like coloring and making jewelry. Recently, she tried her hand at acting. While she is home she enjoys taking care of the family's chickens and training her dog, Peanut.

Maddie is an eleven year old Ewings Sarcoma survivor who is finished with chemotherapy and undergoing scans every 6 months. She was diagnosed in August of 2020.

Julian Castillo-2019

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Here is Julian's story as told by his father, Jose: I will never forget the day that I heard the words “Your son has cancer.” In 2017, my son Julian was diagnosed with Leukemia. My world started to spin as Julian was hospitalized and went into liver failure at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. Intubated and on a dialysis machine with almost no chance of surviving, we hoped and kept faith that Julian would make it through.

With the help of some amazing doctors and the support of our family, friends, community, and Jacob’s Heart, Julian is now in the maintenance phase of his treatment. As my family adjusts to life outside of the hospital, we have found comfort in being able to celebrate Julian for being a survivor.

Isabella Varela - 2018

2019 Golden Circle of Champions Las Vegas
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The California Rodeo Salinas was selected to participate in the first ever Golden Circle of Champions (GCC) trip in Las Vegas this past December. The GCC originated in Santa Maria at the Elks Rodeo and is now going national. Ten rodeo committees selected a child who was a cancer patient or survivor to travel to Las Vegas for an exclusive luncheon with Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contestants and one performance of the WNFR.

We selected 6 year old Isabella (Bella) Varela who is a survivor of a rare cancer. Read her story, written by her mother, Nancy, HERE. Bella survived LCH at a young age. LCH or Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis is a type of cancer that can damage tissue or cause lesions to form in one or more places in the body.

Watch the video to the left that recaps the events in Las Vegas. Bella and her family had a wonderful time and we look forward to participating in the GCC again in 2019 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Special Thanks to Our All Around Grand Champion Sponsors

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