Brookfield native Bill Hillmann was back on the cobblestones of Pamplona, Spain, on July 10, just two days after being gored in the buttocks by a bull during the second encierro – Running of the Bulls – of the famed San Fermin festival.
And, in a phone call with the Landmark later that day, the 35-year-old Hillmann was in pain.
“It was probably as bad idea, looking back on it,” said Hillmann who, by his count, has run with the bulls hundreds of times in Pamplona and elsewhere in Spain. “But I had to do it.”
Three years ago, Hillmann was celebrating the publication of his book Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona and a summer European book tour when he was badly gored while participating in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, during the annual San Fermin festival.
On July 8, Hillmann – this time serving as a subject and advisor of a documentary on the San Ferin festival — was gored for the second time. A bull’s horn caught Hillmann in the buttocks and flipped him onto the pavement as he ran on the second day of the festival.
“When I got hit, it was hard to believe it was so explosive,” Hillmann said. “I didn’t see it. It just was behind a guy who cut out, and [the bull] was right there.”
As the bull charged, Hillmann jumped up, “but his horn hit me right in the butt.”
At first, Hillmann doubted he’d been gored. He jumped up from the pavement and walked to the medics. But the wound would need surgery, Hillmann said, and he spent the next 36 hours in the hospital.
When he broached the subject of running again once he was released, a doctor advised against it. But such warnings haven’t stopped Hillmann in the past. It took him months to recover from being gored through the thigh at San Fermin in 2014.
Hillmann has been running with the bulls in Spain since he was 20 years old, after reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the Pamplona festival plays a large part.
Fresh out of the hospital on the morning of July 10, Hillmann blended into the crowd of runners before the bulls were released into the streets. But as soon as the run began, Hillmann realized he was not going to be able to be very aggressive.
“I started getting pushed around, and I felt sharp pains in stomach and hips, so I shot off to the side and got out,” Hillmann said.
Then some space opened up and he hopped back onto the street, running for 10 to 15 yards with the bulls.
“I was a nice moment for me,” Hillmann said. “I was running with safety in mind. So in the end it was a success.”
Despite being in pain after Monday’s run, Hillmann said he hoped to run again toward the end of the festival later this week.
The injury was disappointing after a good run on the first day of the festival on July 7, he said.
“I had a really, really good run; I ran on the horns for 30 yards,” Hillmann said. “That was a great start to the fiesta.”
It also represented something of a new start for Hillmann, who admitted that he hadn’t run well in 2015 and 2016 after he’d been gored. So this year he was trying to identify new places on the course to run and new strategies.
A documentary film crew accompanied Hillmann to Pamplona this year to both tell his story and that of the San Fermin festival.
“It’s a cool project and pretty ambitious,” Hillmann said. “Last year we did some preliminary work on it. This year was full bore.
“This injury has put the brakes on things.”