A Chicago author who wrote a chapter of the book “How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona” was gored Wednesday during the Spanish bull running festival.“When I fell, the bull fell with me and gored me in one motion,” said Bill Hillmann, who spoke by phone from his hospital room in Spain. “The horn went in one side of my thigh and exited the other side and he pulled it through.”
Hillmann said he plans to run again next year.
A former Chicago boxing champion, Hillmann is a veteran of the running of the bulls. His chapter in the 2014 e-book about the event offers frank advice to would-be bull runners that ranges from shoe selection to which parts of the course are appropriate for beginners.
"You cannot run a very long distance with the bulls,” Hillmann wrote. “They have four legs. They’re faster than you.”
Hillmann, 32, said he approached a massive black bull Wednesday that had become distanced from the pack.
“I always run with lone bulls when the bulls get separated,” he said after undergoing surgery in a Pamplona hospital. “I always try to run them up the street. This was a normal morning for me.”
But he recalls being pushed and then tripping. Hillmann said he and the bull fell simultaneously. Though he said doctors expect him to make a full recovery, they told him the prognosis could have been much worse.
“They said it was a centimeter away from my femoral artery and if it had hit that artery I would have died,” said Hillmann, who grew up in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood and today lives in Little Village.
Though he apparently hadn’t been seriously injured before, this wasn’t Hillmann’s first time on the wrong side of a bull’s horns. In 2011, he told the Tribune about another close call in Pamplona.
“One time I tried to challenge a bull, cut in front of him,” he said then. “He picked me up — I thought I was gored, but he just hooked my shirt — and he slammed me to the street.”
The animal that gored him Wednesday was the heaviest of the morning's six bulls, weighing around 1,300 pounds. Hillmann said there were no hard feelings between him and the beast.
“I don’t hold a grudge,” he said. “That animal, it was a beautiful bull. And if I wouldn’t have been pushed and tripped up and fallen down with him, I would have a great run with that bull.”
A Spanish man was also gored Wednesday in the "encierro," when runners in red scarves and white outfits dash through the Spanish town's streets pursued by the huge animals.
Wednesday's run was the third in the weeklong San Fermin festival, depicted in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises." A Hemingway enthusiast, Hillmann told the Tribune three years ago that the book led him to the running of the bulls.
Hillmann, a bull running veteran of about 10 years, credited the event with helping him become sober and finish his Chicago-based novel “The Old Neighborhood.” He spoke at this year’s Printers Row Lit Fest.
Hillmann said Wednesday’s wound — which he estimated to be between the size of a golf ball and baseball — hasn’t affected his passion for the event.
“I love the Spanish fighting bulls,” he said. “It’s the most wonderful animal in the world and I’m proud to have been gored by one. It’s an honor and it only makes me love this tradition even more.”
Reuters and Tribune reporter Meredith Rodriguez contributed.