Two American brothers ran with the bulls in Pamplona, have the wounds to prove it, and are cherishing the experience as a celebration of life and a brotherly bond strengthened by a bout with cancer last year.
“You can either sit on the couch and watch life go by, or you can go out and try to do these things around the world. If that means getting a horn in the leg, I guess that’s the chance I took.” Michael Lenahan told TODAY during an exclusive interview Monday from the hospital room he and Lawrence Lenahan shared since being gored on Thursday.
Fifteen months ago, Michael, a General Mills sales executive from Philadelphia, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In June 2006, the 23-year-old finished chemotherapy treatments. “So June of this year was one year of being done with cancer,” he told host Meredith Vieira.
His brother, 26-year-old Air Force Capt. Lawrence Lenahan, dreamed about running with the bulls during Pamplona’s annual San Fermin Festival since he was 12 years old. So they decided this was the year to do it.
Dressed in the traditional white shirts and pants and red scarves, the brothers joined people who traveled to Pamplona from all over the world for the event. The festival has been celebrated for more than 400 years, but it became internationally famous in 1926 when it was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Today, the nine-day festival of sangria, adrenaline, testosterone and bulls draws thousands of thrill-seekers to the small village of Pamplona, northeast of Madrid near the French border.
The daily bull run is a half-mile dash down narrow cobblestone streets, with thousands of runners trying to avoid being gored or trampled by a pack of 10 or 12 half-ton bulls. The run ends in the town’s bullring, where the bulls ultimately meet their fates in daily bullfights. Normally, it’s all over in about two minutes.
Since 1924, when records were first kept, 13 people have been killed during the run, the last an American who was gored to death in 1995.
The Lenahans thought they’d done everything right. “We scouted the course out the day before to pick an exciting but safe route,” Lawrence told TODAY. “We backed it up with a few Spanish people who had run in the past.”
‘It was total chaos’
They were at a section of the run called “Deadman’s Curve,” where they let the pack of bulls pass them and started running behind them.
“One bull unexpectedly broke from the pack,” said Lawrence. “The next thing we knew, there was a bull charging us from behind, about ten feet [away]. They’re so fast.”
The angry, and no doubt frightened, animals gored both brothers.
Lawrence suffered an eight-inch gash in his backside, while Michael took a horn in his right leg, the horn entering on his shin and tearing through skin and tissue up to his knee.
“It was total chaos for a minute or two,” Lawrence continued. “My brother came yelling at me, and I was hollering at him. I saw that his leg was completely open. It was ripped open. You could see everything inside. And so we knew we had a problem ... I was eventually tackled and we were thrown in an ambulance.”
The brothers insisted on sharing a room in the hospital, where they were upbeat as they talked of their experience Monday. The next event on their schedule had been to participate in a run in Philadelphia next month to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LIVESTRONG SurvivorCare program.
They no longer expect to run, but they will both walk in the event. “It’s very important to me that I participate,” Michael said.
The brothers are asking that others join them by either walking, running, biking, volunteering or donating to the cause. They have formed a team called Dos Hermanos — Spanish for “two brothers,” a nickname they’ve been given by the Spanish media — and can be reached by email at Doshermanos.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asked by Vieira whether they have any second thoughts about going to Pamplona, Michael said, “I can’t look back now and say I regret doing it, because it’s been an amazing experience. We’ve met great people, and we just have to learn from it.”
“I really, we really learned something from this,” added Lawrence. “It seems odd to talk about, whether it’s by Michael’s bedside during chemotherapy or in the mayhem on the cobblestones of a Pamplona street, we were there for each other. In a way, it’s a bonding experience. That sounds odd, but it was, and that’s what we take from it.”