Horns, hooves, hoopla
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Aug 27, 2013, 11:42
BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT A crowd of people scramble to avoid charging bulls during the Great Bull Run held Saturday in Dinwiddie.
DINWIDDIE — The sun was beating down on a crowd of 500 thrill-seekers as the opening whistle of the theme song to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” shepherded them down a quarter-mile dirt track in preparation for The Great Bull Run.
With red bandanas held high, they chanted the “Bull Honorific” in unison: “Here we are the courageous few to test ourselves and honor the bulls. From those that run and those that fall, we honor the bulls and salute you all!”
And then 12 bulls were unleashed upon the mass, careening down the straightaway where many participants were forced to climb the fences or scramble out of the way so as not to be trampled by the stampede.
The Great Bull Run, the first ever organized bull-running event in the United States, was held at the Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie on Saturday.
Over 3,500 participants took part in the run, of which two were taken to the Southside Regional Hospital for treatment of concussion-like symptoms, according to an email statement from The Great Bull Run team released on Saturday evening.
Alisha Alvord, a bystander, was right next to the fence where one of the runners got hit.
“The bull horn hit him in the side. He went flying like five feet up in the air. When he hit the ground, I thought ‘OK, he’s just going to cover his head, but he was just laying there and I was like ‘Why isn’t he covering his head?’ The people had to drag him off of the track,” Alvord said.
Alvord said that he had a noticeable lump on his head and speculated that he might have been hit by a bull’s hoof.
The Great Bull Run staff did not release the names of the injured runners, but hoped for a “speedy recovery” and said they will provide updates as their condition unfolds, according to an email statement on Saturday.
All runners were required to sign a waiver before participating, acknowledging the inherent dangers of the event.
Rob Deckins, who founded The Great Bull Run along with Brad Scudders and actually ran in more than one of the scheduled runs on Saturday, said that he was pleased with the turnout of the event in an interview before the final run of the day.
“I think it was perfectly done. You can go around asking more people for interviews. I think everybody had a fantastic time today. I think most people as a whole are glad that nobody died and glad that nobody got gored. I’m glad nobody died or got gored. I think it was a perfect first event. We’ll make some tweaks as we move forward. We’ll make some tweaks to ensure that everybody is happy to the best that we can,” Deckins said.
Although The Great Bull Run is based on the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain, Deckins said there are some essential differences in the bulls used to promote runners’ safety.
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“The ones in Spain have sharper horns. They’re smaller, more nimble and they’ve also been bred to be highly, highly aggressive. We may in the future at some point bring Spanish bulls to the event, but not with sharpened horns. Again, we don’t want anybody getting gored. When people get gored, they die. That’s what you hear about in Spain. We don’t want any of that happening,” Deckins said.
Deckins was not available for comment after the final run.
Despite the two hospitalized runners and various other minor injuries, the general reaction to the event was of delighted enthusiasm.
For Noah Bowman, the decision to participate in the run knowing the potential dangers was an easy one.
“Why not? You only get life once so live it to the fullest. Go big or go home,” he said. “It was definitely worth it.”
Matthew Stinson, from Newport News, described the adrenaline inducing experience.
“I was completely scared because they came out running, bucking. I turned around and I looked at the bull and I ran into somebody. ... I turned back around and the bull was right there and I kept running again and I stopped and I turned back around and ... I waited. Pause. Pause. Wait, wait. Run! And I took off again and I hit somebody again and I jumped on the fence,” Stinson said before admitting he will definitely do it again.
Ethan Goings shared Stinson’s exhilaration.
“It was a rush. I’m already an adrenaline junkie. That just made it worse,” Goings said.
Animal rights group Richmond Friends of Animals stood outside the main entrance and protested the event in an effort to demonstrate their claim that “the bulls are the true losers here, forced to endure stress, massive crowds, and disorienting loud noises” as well as possible injuries, from the group’s Facebook page.
There were four scheduled bull runs, three of which were separated into two waves of 500 runners being chased by 12 bulls. The final run took place at 3:30 p.m. and the organizers decided to up the stakes by sending all 24 bulls through the gates at one time to run through 600 people, during which the two runners were injured.
Rather than running the entire length of the track, each run was set up where the runners staggered themselves out down the dirt track leaving a clearing down the middle for the bulls to use as a path, and when the bulls passed, runners could choose how far they wanted to sprint alongside them before getting out of the way or climbing up the fences.
“It’s more like [the] dodging of the bulls,” Deckins said over the loudspeaker before the first run.
Runners were not allowed to deliberately touch the bulls, and were warned of expulsion due to visible intoxication.
Following the 1 p.m. bull run was the Tomato Royale, a giant tomato fight in which participants would retrieve tomatoes from a massive pile in the center of a fenced-in arena and launch them at each other.
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For well over 30 minutes, a storm of juicy vegetables progressively turned into inches of tomato juice as everybody excitedly hurled tomatoes and juice every which way. Participants were required to wear protective safety glasses, and were instructed to squash the tomatoes before throwing them to minimize physical harm to others.
Nick Russo, who came from Chesapeake, said that the tomatoes definitely hurt a little bit, but that it was “so worth it.”
“I got rocked in the face in the beginning. That sucked. I broke my glasses, so I had to...wait a little bit. But [besides] that, it’s awesome. Crazy,” Russo said.