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Wounded Bull-Runner: 'If You Run Long Enough, You Get Gored'

Jul 12, 2014
Originally published on July 12, 2014 4:30 pm

When Bill Hillmann joined this year's running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, he knew exactly what he was signing up for. After all, he co-wrote the book on it.

Hillmann was a contributor to Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona. But his expertise didn't protect him from harm this year: A lone bull, or suelto, gored him through the right leg.

From his hospital bed, Hillmann tells NPR's Kelly McEvers that he feels fine. "They've got me on some really good painkillers, so I'm just kind of floating here," he says.

Hillmann says that his family has been telling him for years to stop running with the bulls, but despite his injury, he won't be stopping. "It's a very important part of my life," he tells McEvers, "and I'm going to continue."


Interview Highlights

On what happened right before he was gored

I ran with the pack at first, and the pack sort of passed me, and I sort of shrugged it off. But I look back and there was one bull that had been separated from the pack and was left. And when that happens the bull loses its herding instinct and it decides just to gore everything in its sight. It's the most dangerous situation in the run, but it's something that I love. ...

And when I get close, the bull instantly sort of acknowledged me and approached me. ... I figured I was going to run this bull all the way into the arena, which was about 80 yards. But I put my hand out behind me and I felt another runner behind me, and when I looked back that runner yelled at me and pushed me. I was like, "Whoa, that is not normal ... Why is that guy doing that?" And the bull came, and he sort of charged when he saw the commotion.

Then the guy pushed me even harder, and this time I fell. And when I fell, the bull fell. And as the bull fell, he gored me in the thigh and lifted me up and threw me.

On what it felt like to be gored by the bull

There was no pain whatsoever. It was just that I felt like I had been picked up and moved. And I crawled out on my back — the bull tried to get me a couple more times as I was crawling out. A medic who was on the other side of the fence, he dragged me out the rest of the way. And I looked down and there was about a racquetball-sized hole in my thigh. And there was another hole in my thigh, sort of under my thigh ... and that was the exit wound of the horn.

And I started thinking, "OK, I might be dying." And I was just kind of amazed by that. ... I asked [the medics], like, "Is it the arteries?" And they sort of looked and kept working, and then they stopped and said, "No. It's just the muscle, you're fine."

On whether it was the other runner's fault

Oh, yeah. No question. ... My running friends have all been researching really vigorously, looking at the photos, to try to identify the runners, and it appears to be three English tourists who were panicking and didn't know what to do and were freaking out. And in the panic, they pushed me.

On the irony of being gored after contributing to Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona

I don't see it as an irony at all. I am alive. I survived. ...

Gorings are part of the run, and if you run long enough, you get gored. Most people see it as a badge of honor, you know. I don't know if I feel that strongly about it. I wish I wasn't gored, for example. I mean, I'm not glad I got gored at all.

At the same time, you know, I know when I step in the street that this is part of it.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Here's a name you might have heard in the news this week - Bill Hillmann. For the last 10 years, this guy from Chicago has joined the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. And going into this week, he'd always made it out OK. So far so good. Until Wednesday when Bill was, you know, running with the bulls as usual and a bull gored him in the thigh. Here's the thing. Bill Hillmann also co-wrote a book called "Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls of Pamplona." So given his issue with the bull this week, a lot of people thought, well, that was kind of ironic. Someone who reviewed the book on Amazon even said, looking forward to his new book - a guide to the best urgent care facilities in Pamplona. So we decided to go to the source. We called up Bill and reached him in his hospital room. Bill Hillmann, welcome to the show.

BILL HILLMANN: Thanks so much. Glad to be on.

MCEVERS: Can you tell us how you're feeling?

HILLMANN: You know, I'm feeling good. My body feels fine. They got me on some really good painkillers so I'm just kind of floating here on the hospital bed.

MCEVERS: So tell me exactly how this went down. You were running at the time. What happened?

HILLMANN: Well, I ran with the pack at first. And the pack sort of passed me and I sort of shrugged it off. But I looked back and there was one bull that have been separated from the pack. And it was left. And when that happens, the bull loses its herding instinct and it decides to gore everything in its sight. It's the most dangerous situation in the run. But it's something that I love. It's my favorite bull to run with - is a suelto.

MCEVERS: It's called a suelto? What does that mean?

HILLMANN: Yeah. Suelto means a loose one - a loose bull.

MCEVERS: Yeah, OK.

HILLMANN: I just kind of ease in towards him, slowly and carefully. And when I get close, the bull instantly sort of acknowledged me and approached me. So I was - at that moment, I figured I was going to run this bull all the way into the arena, which was about 80 yards. But I put my hand up behind me and I felt another runner behind me. And that runner - when I looked back, that runner yelled at me and pushed me. And I sort of like - I was like, whoa, that is not normal. Why is that guy doing that? And the bull came and he sort of charged when he saw the commotion. Then the guy push me even harder and this time I fell. And when I fell, the bull fell. And as the bull fell, he gored me in the thigh and lifted me up and threw me. There was no pain, whatsoever. It was just that I felt like I'd just been picked up and moved. And I crawled out of my back. The bull sort of tried to get me a couple more times as I was crawling out. A medic, who was on the other side of the fence, he dragged me out the rest of the way. And, you know, I looked down and there was about a racquetball-sized hole in my thigh. There was another hole in my thigh, sort of under my thigh, like under my kneecap sort of - and that was the exit wound of the horn. I started thinking, OK, I might be dying. And I was just kind of amazed by that, for some reason. I was just astonished by that idea that I could be dying right now. But they started to work on me. I asked them, like, is it the artery? They sort of looked and kept working. And then they stopped and said no. It's just the muscle. You're fine.

MCEVERS: So do you think it was that other runner's fault that made this happen?

HILLMANN: Oh yeah, no question.

MCEVERS: What was he doing? Why did he do that?

HILLMANN: My running friends have all been looking at the photos to try to identify the runners. And it appears to be three English tourists, who were panicking and didn't know what to do and were freaking out. And in the panic, they pushed me.

MCEVERS: You know, you've been doing this for a while now. And now this pretty terrible - you know, this intense thing has happened. I have to ask you. Is your family saying, OK, that's enough - time to stop?

HILLMANN: Yeah, they are. I mean, they've been saying that for years, you know.

MCEVERS: (Laughing) I mean, are you going to listen to them this time?

HILLMANN: No, no, I'm not. This is a very important part of my life and I want to continue.

MCEVERS: I mean, one of the reasons people have taken to this story, of course - it's the reason that we're calling - is that, you know, you wrote part of a book called "Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls of Pamplona." I mean, how is that -how is that irony sitting with you today?

HILLMANN: Well, I mean, I don't see - see, I have a problem it with because I don't see it as an irony at all. I'm alive. I survived.

MCEVERS: That's right. All right, fair enough.

HILLMANN: I don't see it as irony at all. Gorings are part of the run. And if you run long enough, you get gored. Most people see it as a badge of honor. You know, I don't know if I feel that strongly about it. You know, I wish I wasn't gored, for example. I'm not glad I got gored at all. You know, At the same time, you know, I know when I stepped in the street that this is part of it.

MCEVERS: If you run long enough, you're going to get gored - words to live by from Bill Hillmann. He's also the author of a new novel called "The Old Neighborhood." We reached him in the hospital, where he's recuperating after being gored by a bull. Bill thanks. Take care.

HILLMANN: Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

MCEVERS: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.