Running with the Bulls documentary chronicles the good, the bad and the gory

SHARE Running with the Bulls documentary chronicles the good, the bad and the gory
SHARE Running with the Bulls documentary chronicles the good, the bad and the gory

BY MISHA DAVENPORT | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

It was the longest 20 seconds of his life.

That’s how Bill Hillman, the Chicago author of “How to Survive the Running of the Bulls,” describes his encounter with a bull that put him in the hospital for 11 days last year when he was gored during the annual “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.

“I was falling, the bull was there, I felt a tiny prick in my leg and then the bull lift me up by his horn and threw me in the air,” Hillman says. “It was this soft, gentle arc into the air and it seemed to take forever for me to hit the ground.”

‘CHASING RED’ When: 7:30 p.m. April 15 Where:Kerasotes Showplace Icon at Roosevelt Collection, 1011 S. Delano Tickets: $8 Info: www.tugg.com/events/14716

And when he did, the bull was still there.

“I was trying to crawl under the barricade and he continued to gore me, this time under my knee.”

Other seasoned runners managed to distract the bull away from Hillman, but the damage was done.

“My inner-thigh was swollen and had a hole in it the size of a softball,” he recalls. “The cut by my kneecap was filling my shoe with blood and I thought for sure the bull had hit a major artery and I was going to be dead in seconds.”

Hillman is featured in Dennis Clancey’s documentary “Chasing Red,” which follows four runners across the eight bull runs of a single fiesta in Pamplona. (The festival takes place July 6-14). The film will be shown April 15 at Kerasotes Showplace Icon at Roosevelt Collection. Both men will be on hand for a post-show question and answer session.

Dennis Clancey |SUPPLIED PHOTO

Dennis Clancey |SUPPLIED PHOTO

The running of the bulls is believed to have originated in the 14th century and the eight-day festival in Pamplona is the most popular of all the bull runs in Spain. The event garnered world-wide fame after Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in “The Sun Also Rises” and “Death in the Afternoon.”

Clancey says his own experiences as a bull runner (he has run every year since 2007) makes him the perfect director to document the people who risk their lives year after year to run.

“This is beyond me just asking them what it is like to run,” he says. “The film is an accurate stamp of what it means to be a runner.”

“The experienced runners are running out of a sense of obligation,” Clancey continues. “They run in part to protect other runners. If someone falls, you do what you can to distract the bulls and protect your fellow runners.”

It’s the exact kind of mentality that Clancey, a graduate of West Point and veteran of the Iraq war, says is akin to the military.

“There is a sense of brotherhood and of a code,” he says. “You don’t turn your back on another runner.”

Dennis Clancey participates in the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.| JERRY DUGAN PHOTO

Dennis Clancey participates in the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.| JERRY DUGAN PHOTO

Both Hillman and Clancy describe the annual event as fun, exciting and dangerous.

“Bill’s and my own experiences show that no matter how many times you run, you can never get rid of all the danger,” Clancey says. “You have to learn to manage what you can and accept the things you cannot.”

Since record keeping began in 1924, there are been 15 deaths during the event, including Glen Ellyn native Matthew Peter Tassio, who was gored to death in 1995. Hillman says he learned of Tassio’s death the year after his first run.

“It sobered me up,” he says. “That first year, I had no idea what I was doing and that could have just as easily been me.”

And yet, Hillman keeps going back.

“My wife is less than thrilled,” he says. “We almost got divorced after what happens last year, but I think she understands that I am a runner and a runner has to run until he can’t run anymore.”

Hillman’s memoir, “Mozos: A Decade Running with the Bulls in Spain,” comes out in June.

Misha Davenport is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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