By Zachary Daum
Earlier this month, a small group of Lebanon, Illinois residents set out on an unforgettable adventure to Pamplona, Spain, to partake in the annual running of the bulls. Comprised of Danny Pier, Cameran Keepper, and Stu Mcallister, this daring trio took on the time-honored tradition, celebrating Lebanon High School Soccer Coach Cameran Keepper’s 40th birthday, fulfilling his long-held desire to run with the bulls.
For Lebanon Junior High Basketball Coach, Stu Mcallister, the experience was nothing short of a “wild adventure.” Reflecting on the journey, Mcallister remarked, “You only live once. This is something that my buddies and I will never forget. We’ve been friends for over 30 years but the camaraderie that we gained just from that trip is amazing.”
The running of the bulls is an integral part of the Festival of San Fermín, an ancient festival in Madrid with roots dating back to 1591. The event pays homage to Saint Fermin, a senator’s son who was martyred for his beliefs after converting to Catholicism, by being tied to a bull and dragged to his death, later to be declared a saint.
Their journey began in Madrid, where they spent a day exploring the local cuisine and architecture. Mcallister marveled at the city’s antiquity, comparing it to his own 200-year-old house back in Lebanon. “When you go over there, it makes my house not look old at all. They have a church that was built in the 1100s,” he said.
Taking a train to Pamplona from Madrid, the group observed the bull run from their balcony on the fourth day of the festival. Witnessing a participant getting seriously injured, Mcallister noted that the most dangerous aspect of the event was not the bulls themselves, but the chaos among the runners. “As the bulls come up, you have people run into each other. That was the most dangerous part, not the bulls. If you are in the way of the bulls, though, they get you.”
The following day, they decided to join the bull run themselves, starting their own journey just below the balcony where they had seen the man being trampled the day before. The experience was a mix of excitement and nerves, as they navigated through falling runners and charging bulls. Mcallister described it as “definitely hectic.”
“We ended up following the bulls all the way to the arena. That was our goal. Then they lock you in the arena and they let out the little bulls. They are like 500 pounds, whereas the bulls in the fight later are over 1000 pounds. The little bulls have their horns taped up. The goal was to jump over the bulls, which took us a while to figure out because there was a huge language barrier. The crowd went wild anytime someone did (jump over the little bulls). It was crazy. If you fell down there was somebody to pick you up and if the bull was on you, someone would distract the bull so you could get up. They didn’t care that we were American, they helped us out, hugged us, it was awesome.”
Despite the exhilarating bull run, Mcallister admitted that he did not enjoy the bullfight that followed. Concerned about the treatment of the bulls, he shared, “I’m not gonna lie, the bullfight was hard to watch. A lot of the foreigners couldn’t watch the fight because they slaughter the bulls at the end. The matador gets all the hype but he doesn’t do anything. By the time he gets the bull, it’s worn down and tired. It’s already been bleeding for 5 minutes. I wouldn’t watch it again. I’m a little bit of a hippie, I care about the animals a lot. I’d definitely run again, but I wouldn’t watch the bullfight again. I respect the tradition in it though. It’s not about slaughtering the bulls either, they use the bulls. It’s like slaughtering a deer, they use the body.”
For these Lebanon residents, their journey to the running of the bulls in Spain was a blend of adventure, camaraderie, and reflection on a tradition deeply ingrained in Spanish culture.