My best friend ran with the bulls and all I got was this interview
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
Michael and I have been best friends since 1985. We were in class together at Indian Lake elementary school. Our friendship was solidified when we sat beside each other on a long field trip bus ride to the Huntsville Space Center. As kids we swam in the lake together, built forts, and did all of normal stuff that kids growing up on the Indian lake peninsula in Hendersonville, TN were privileged to do. Life was simple, and safe, back then.
In high school we wrestled together, sharing all of those emotional highs and lows. We were already best friends, but experiencing the blood, sweat, and tears of wrestling together created a bond that I share with only small group of people. Michael was there when I cried. When I crumbled under pressure. He was there when I persevered and celebrated. And I was there for him too as he experienced the same.
Now he’s a successful lawyer in Atlanta. I’m proud of him. It was always obvious, because of his work ethic and intellect, that he would be successful. I’m also proud of him for experiencing a life that others only dream of. He’s doing things, instead of talking about them. I think his kids will benefit from that one day. That’s why I’m writing about him here, even though he’s not a triathlete.
This summer he went to Pamplona, Spain and ran with the bulls at the seven day festival of Sanfermines. That’s a “bucket list” experience for thousands of people. You can read more about the festival and the running of the bulls here.
I talked with Michael recently about his trip. Enjoy!
Chad: Tell me about Pamplona?
Michael: I loved it. Although, I can’t say what Pamplona is like when the San Fermin festival isn’t going on, so it’s more accurate to say, “I loved San Fermin!” Full of energy and excitement.
Chad: What’s the city like the night before and the morning of the “run”?
Michael: According to Hemingway, “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” That’s how Pamplona is during San Fermin. I took a picture of the streets at 5am, and it looked like Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras, but with uniform outfits worn by all the participants, and happier.
Chad: What went through your mind as you heard the bulls round the corner?
Michael: I heard the bells ringing from the necks of the brown bulls used to herd the fighting black ones. The ground shook, and the revelers pointed from their balconies above as cameras flashed from their faces. I thought, “It’s happening. I am running with the bulls of Pamplona!” I froze and watched the group to make sure there were no stragglers (the danger lies in a black bull that gets away from the crowd). When I realized there wasn’t one, I ran beside and behind them with great exhilaration.
Chad: Describe the moment the bulls passed you.
Michael: Once they passed, and I felt like the danger was gone, it was great to be part of the group. My next goal was to get into the arena before the gates closed, which we accomplished.
Chad: Honestly, were you scared for your life at any point? Or is the element of danger overblown? Is just an excuse to drink beer in Spain?
Michael: I love traveling, especially internationally. I went to celebrate my friend’s 40th birthday by doing something truly unique and exciting. I had a few seconds of fear as the bulls passed, and I was nervous when we first entered the pen about 45 minutes before the run began, but it’s really as dangerous as you want it to be. I’ve had closer calls driving around Atlanta than I did in Pamplona.
Chad: Hemingway ran with the bulls? How are you like Hemingway?
Michael: I think ol’ Ernest enjoyed the Spanish culture and how they “do” a large festival. I’ve been to 4 Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, but San Fermin was much more enjoyable. Less debaucherous; just a few hundred thousand men and women from around the world there to take part in a tradition that spans centuries. I didn’t like watching the bullfight afterward, however (Hemingway liked bullfighting, I believe).
Chad: Did you wear a red ascot like Fred from Scooby Doo or like Ernest Hemingway on safari?
Michael: Absolutely. When we checked into our hotel in Pamplona, the desk clerk gave us all red kerchiefs to wear with our white shirts and pants to honor San Fermin.
Chad: How long had you wanted to do this?
Michael: Actually, the idea was birthed while in Iraq in 2003. My friend Shane was with me, a fellow Captain from my Air Guard unit. While we were there, I turned 28, and we talked about birthdays and all the places we’d rather be on my birthday than Iraq. He was a few years away from turning 40, and since he has a July birthday, we decided we’d like to go to Spain and run with the bulls. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen a few years later when he turned 40, but the idea never left my head. So, when Chris, my de facto law partner, turned 40 in December ’11, I suggested we do this trip the following July. So we did it.
Chad: Someday you’ll tell the story to your kids and to your grandkids. What’s the message you hope they take away?
Michael: That the world is full of wonderful people, traditions, and celebrations that they should see and appreciate one day. I try to seize opportunities to enjoy adventures in life and hope they do, too. And finally, I want them to know that at one point, their old man was pretty cool.
Chad: Advice for Americans considering running with the bulls?
Michael: Watch my training video!