Translator and interpreter for this interview: Enid Maldonado
On the final day of Fiesta 2011 legendary American runner Joe Distler invited me to the runner’s breakfast, (an immense honor). And who walks in but Julen Madina, the Michael Jordan of Bull Running. Madina’d retired just before the start of this year’s fiesta after 40 years of running with the bulls. In his retirement speech Madina said that as this year’s fiesta approached, his heart said yes but his head said no. In the following Julen gives a chilling account of the day he was nearly gored to death by a Jandilla bull in 2004. After that day Madina continued to run for six years at an elite level.
HILLMANN-What do the bulls mean to you?
MADINA: The bull for me is a mythical animal, its force, its power. I like the bull, it’s a very beautiful animal, and after all these years of being able to enjoy the bull in the street well…I’m in love with this animal.Whenyou see it, when you try to lead it, when you slap him in the back quarters it seems like you’re hitting a rock. It has an extraordinarily brutal force. It’s a gorgeous animal.
HILLMANN-What does the Encierro mean to you?
MADINA: The encierro… well… to be able to somehow dominate or control this ever powerful brutal animal, this wonderful being; when it somehow accepts you, like the leader of the herd and that you are able to lead it all the way to the arena. When you have done this with a bull at your back, to step on the sand, for me it’s as if the task is completed, it’s the maximum. I feel then like I don’t know… like a special being, more than the shepherd, I feel as if I were floating in a cloud.
HILLMANN-Is that why you committed yourself to the run for all these decades?
MADINA: It was not commitment, it was a personal enlistment. I crave it, I have been like an addict to the sensation; that emotion, those fears, those impressive fears I’ve had before running but which I have been able to control. The later emotions that running and controlling those fears gave me were great.
Thetime away has been difficult. Today I’d like to work either as a correspondent or a commentator on TV or something that can justify me being in the street with my comrades. To have an umbilical cord with the encierro, being able to give something for all which I have received.
HILLMANN-How did you know it was time to stop?
MADINA: What can I say, my head changed since the birth of my young daughter. I also knew that I was at the end of a cycle. I’ve had a very bad time. I have tried to isolate myself from the encierros as if the time stopped, as if I lived in a bubble. It has been absolutely impossible but also my daughter was very small and continues to be very small. She demands a lot of work and attention. Every time I heard or saw an image (of the run) brief as it was, it made me cry. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve focused on my daughter and that is what has somehow helped me move on and help me to find closure.
HILLMANN-What’s your most potent memory of the encierro?
MADINA: Man… There are many moments; there have been moments where I have seen things that stepped out of normality. I have seen fatal gorings. I have witnessed 3 deaths. I got gored in 96 and I broke four ribs, in 72 a bull got me and dragged me 50 meters and in 2004 well, I had that very bad one, I got gored five times in the tunnel.
Important moments as a runner I have had many, every time that I entered the arena with a bull, every time that I lead a bull, two bulls, three bulls down Telefonica and into the arena and then I give them to the Dobladores (men in charge of caping the bulls into the corrals). Those for me have been magical moments. Perhaps one of the most spectacular was with the Dolores Aguirre ranch, I was all over the news because I ran in front of six bulls for almost four hundred meters. When I entered the arena I pointed my finger to the sky like saying ‘this is the maximum’.
HILLMANN-What happened in ‘04?
MADINA: In 2004 I was running with the Jandillas, like any other day. I remember very clearly everything that happened. I was coming down on Telefonica and there were lots of people, the encierro was very dirty, people falling over, crossing in front of me, I couldn’t see the bulls. I had the bull at my back very close. I was trying to stay under control, I had to keep looking down and measuring the space. I saw that by the left side of the tunnel, a very great cork was forming, people falling over and piling up, I decided to go towards the right side of the tunnel to avoid the problems. I entered that side with a bull very close to my back.
What I could not see is that behind that first pile there was a second pile. I fell over directly on top and the bull was very bravo(aggressive) so as soon as I fell it gored me. It lifted me from my belt and began to shake me vigorously. I tried to grab my belt buckle to loosen my belt but I could not loosen it, so the bull continued hauling me then he dropped me. I landed on top of a group of people and I lay very still, without moving because I knew that there where lot of people who were going to shout so the bull would raise its face and go away or that is what I hoped. But the bull stayed with me and he kept on goring me. It lasted twenty-two seconds and nobody was able to take the bull away. Aside from the goring’s; I remember hearing this noise a zzzz zzzz like stabbing sound.
The bull then took to me from my butt-cheek and lifted me and kept me on his horn, then he dropped me and I noticed a severe pain. The other thing that called my attention was the bellows of the bull, how it snorted, the energy with it was attacking me and I could hear the noise that the hooves made in the ground and the burned scent of the hooves scratching against the ground. I was laying face down and I stayed quiet, quiet, quiet. He gave me a terrible beating. I remained in the ground totally crushed and I remember that then I thought, I can see the street so the pile was being broken and I thought, what the bull didn’t do now the people will. There is an avalanche of people coming and they are going to massacre me, they are going to crush me and step on me.
So, I dragged myself and I got underneath the wall (an opening low in the tunnel) looking for a refuge, hoping that the help would arrived soon. I remember that I was falling sleep because of all the blood loss. I was talking to myself a lot, I would say ‘breathe slowly, breathe through the nose and your mouth, control the breathing, because if you breath slowly the blood flows slowly, with an accelerated heart rate the blood circulates faster and you will bleed to death faster, calm down, breath slowly’. I thought if someday this had to happen this is the best place, here in Pamplona, they have the best doctors and best resources. They’ll help you, now wait and be calm. That is when I heard voices and I saw the Red Cross guys. They tore my clothes and made a tunicate. One of them put his fist in my wound, the one in the left leg to stop the hemorrhage and they carried me to the horse’s patio, and they performed surgery at the nurse’s station right inside the arena.
HILLMANN-What are your hopes for the future of the encierro?
MADINA: First, that encierro’s in general survive. And for the encierro at Pamplona, that people take care of it, that they run dressed in white to recover the aesthetic and that they recover the respect that it has been losing. The great risk is that the encierro dies by success. The encierro has gotten very big and that precisely is its great enemy, that it is a very popular thing.
Now people come from very distant parts like the US, looking for something mythological, a rite of passage or a place to show how brave they are. And that can be part of the history of the encierro but the encierro is much more, way more and with only that idea, it is not possible to participate in the right way. They don’t know that they are playing with their lives or risking suffering serious injury because a bull, well, a bull can kill to you.
Now that I’ll no longer run, my hope is that perhaps a group of people would come and I can teach them or help them so they can participate safely, with knowledge of what they are going to do and what are they getting into.
For more information on Julen Madina and his school for runners go to http://www.julenmadina-sanfermin.com/