PUNXSUTAWNEY — Like many young men, Joe Pascuzzo works alongside his dad at their family business, Bob’s Sales and Service, and coaches a youth football team. But last month he did something most people only dream about – running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
Pascuzzo and two of his buddies, Michael Gigliotti from Punxsutawney and Scott Rendos from Brockway, decided earlier this year to run with the bulls. After they arrived in Pamplona he ran into a friend from Pittsburgh and her boyfriend, Jesse Jones, joined their group.
Pascuzzo said running with the bulls wasn’t something he had planned for a long time. “One day I was in here and heard about it and I said, ‘I think I’m going to go to Spain this year.’” Pascuzzo made all the arrangements for their adventure through a travel service. “Not speaking fluent Spanish, and they don’t speak any English, I wanted someone who was familiar with it to book the reservations. They took care of everything – we had Mercedes and limos to take us to our hotel,” he said.
They were in Pamplona July 6 to 9 during the 9-day Festival of San Fermin.
“Pamplona is a small town like Punxsy,” he said. “You can tell they are a small town except for once a year when people come to run with the bulls. The Festival of San Fermin is very similar to the Laurel Festival or Groundhog Festival here. The people are very hospitable. The vendors have tables with white tablecloths and hostesses that come out to serve you.”
Pascuzzo and his friends were dressed in the traditional outfit for the run – white pants and shirt, a red bandana around their neck and a red sash around their waist. “Don’t wear expensive white,” he said. “During the opening ceremonies they dump Sangria everywhere. People are dumping Sangria out of five-story buildings, people have cups and are throwing Sangria into the crowds. There was Sangria everywhere. You are red by the time it is all said and done.”
To start of the festival “the mayor comes out and blesses everybody. I bet there were 10,000 to 15,000 people there, and they were cheering and hollering. They’re all nuts!”
Although Pascuzzo and his buddies thought they were well prepared, they didn’t get to run on the first day. “We got kicked out,” he said. “We went to bed early and woke up at 5:30 in the morning. We were standing there at Dead Man’s Corner, where they recommend novice runners to start, and we were ready. The next thing we knew they started herding thousands of us out like cattle. None of us knew what was going on, but afterwards we found out that the course goes over part of the track, then the town square and then the rest of track. We started after the town square and you have to start before the town square. As they let you in they check you for cell phones and any electronic devices, and they make sure you are not visibly intoxicated. There is no messing around; they’re not afraid to throw you out,” he said.
Because they had wanted to run two days in a row, “we regrouped and came back for the second day, starting in the right place. It was exhilarating,” he said.
The track is about a half mile long, and the race normally takes two to three minutes. “I used to be able to run a half mile pretty quick,” Pascuzzo said. “Once I got there I talked to a couple experienced guys that have run 20 years plus and they said there was never anyone that made it from start to finish. He said the bulls run out at 35 miles an hour top speed in a 15-foot wide cobblestone street, with 6,000 people in that street. He said you just can’t do it, it’s just not possible because you might trip or the bulls might get you. The veteran bull runners are satisfied when they spend 8 to 12 seconds with the bulls.”
Pascuzzo made it to the arena, as did Gigliotti and Jones.
“There was a guy there who is 67 years old. He ran for 25 years, but doesn’t run anymore. He just stands there to get the rush of them coming past,” he said. “Most of the runners are in the 18 to 35 year range, and most are men. I saw a few girls.”
To begin the actual running with the bulls, “they launch rockets. The first rocket is launched at 8 a.m. when they open the gates for the bulls to come out. The second rocket means all the bulls have left the penned area and are on the streets. The third rocket means the first bull has entered the arena and the fourth rocket tells everyone that the last bull has entered the arena, the gates are closed and the streets are now safe,” Pascuzzo said.
“At 8 o’clock I heard the rocket and you just start seeing wave after wave of people. I was jumping as high as I could to see over the crowd to see when they were coming, and the backs of my calves hurt for three days,” he said. “The next thing you know it is like the parting of the Red Sea and you got to see this big head of cattle with massive horns coming at you, and I was like ‘go, go, go!’ It was people running everywhere! Fear, panic and all those emotions into 15 to 30 seconds.”
Pascuzzo said when he saw the bulls coming, “I took off. I was two to three feet close to them and they started coming in. As we were running into the arena, the one bull was actually directly beside me. The run into the arena was very exhilarating. The whole arena is packed full of people cheering and screaming for you, once you come in with the bulls. I was running into the arena with two bulls still behind me.”
Pascuzzo said the entire race took maybe 2 ½ to 3 minutes. “It was fast. It really was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Less than one percent of the entire world’s population has ever done this, and it is a nice statistic to have under your belt, something to tell the kids and the grandkids,” he said.
“Once you get into the arena they give you a second to catch your breath, then they release six smaller bulls, who are 500 to 800 pounds, and their horns are capped. They will run next year, and they just crush people. You are like a human bowling ball until you get out of the way. People run around and slap them on the butt or touch them to get them to chase you,” he said.
“I was never really afraid; I was more excited than anything,” he said. “I was prepared, I studied a lot. I knew the bulls don’t take corners well, so I knew not to be on their outsides. Actually I ended up, when the bull was coming at me, on his outside, which I didn’t want to be, because they can’t shift their weight and when they begin to slide, they push out.”
Pascuzzo also saw a bullfight in the evening, when the six bulls that ran that morning were killed. The meat is donated to feed the needy. He talked to one of the matadors who fought in the arena. “The whole side of his face is plastic,” he said. “He took a bull horn to the eye. He fought two days after I left.”
Would Pascuzzo run with the bulls again? “In a heartbeat,” he said. “It was everything I thought it would be.”