I knew about the rockets – four of them in all – that would be going off at the start and at the end of the run. They shoot off to signal significant moments in the run with the bulls. The first one streaks through the sky the moment the bulls are released. The second goes off when all the bulls and steers clear the holding area. A third rocket is launched when all the bulls have entered the arena. And finally the fourth, the rocket everyone waits to hear, screams out when the bulls have been contained safely and the run is complete.
There is significance in each thundering BOOM. Obviously if you are running you want to hear that fourth rocket, the one that lets you know you are safe and you will go home with only the holes you came with. The third is pretty important too– especially if you are still on the streets and not in the arena – because you know all bulls have entered the bullring and there will be no more horns coming up fast behind you. The second – in my opinion – is sort of a throw away rocket … all the bulls have left the pen! Okay. Whatever. Not sure why this matters. It isn’t like you’re going to wait to start running until you know they are ALL out there on the cobblestones after you. Personally, I think we could do without the second rocket but what do I know? A gazillion Spaniards can’t be wrong. And then, then there’s the first rocket. And that’s the one – the rocket that blew my heart right open.
I didn’t decide to run after I beat cancer. I didn’t decide when I got cancer. I decided years before. And maybe that’s why I was taken aback by the overwhelming emotion that hit me and pyrotechniqued through my chest when I heard that KA-BOOM of the first rocket. Or maybe it is something every runner feels and I would have felt it regardless but it didn’t feel like I thought it would. It wasn’t nervousness. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t even excitement. When that rocket when off – when I heard that sound I felt …
Yes, of course … of course I know it was the bulls that were released. Obviously. But in that moment – in that wild, white and red, heart pounding moment – I would swear I’d been turned loose. Finally. Finally. Finally – I was free.
I ran with the bulls July 10, 2007. 12 months prior I was sitting in a chair taking poison into my body and feeling it drop me through my skin and leech out every good thing about me. 8 months prior I was walking around with the assistance of my husband and with only a scanty few hairs on my head. Just 6 months before that day I was in a hospital bed unable to walk the length of a bull or breathe without oxygen. And then, here I was … running. I was running – full out, arms flying, legs pumping, heart beating – just as it should, lungs working – beautifully and perfectly, and laughing. Laughing with Every. Single. Ounce. of me.
Carrie and I had been on the route that morning before the fence went up. We were standing waiting while it was still dark so she could climb up and sit. Sit and watch and wait for the moment I would run by. At 6:00 she claimed her spot. I stood next to her on that fence until it was time for me to go enter the gate and wait for that rocket and the run. We snapped a couple of pictures. We made a few plans. And when it was time I kissed her and climbed down. I took off my sweatshirt and handed it to her. I said, I love you, Beek. She said, I love YOU, Beek. And I walked away.
Later she told me the people around her asked her in broken English and with astonished voices … IS SHE GOING TO RUN??? And she proudly said, Yes. Yes. She is my sister. And she is going to run.
I didn’t see my sis again until I went parading by her at 3 till 8:00. She was still on that fence. When I left her, she knew no one around her. When I went by – waving with both hands and smiling – she has somehow recruited the whole section to scream “GO BEEK!!!!” Because that’s the kind of sister she is. She shouted again and again. And I looked over my shoulder over and over waving and waving. And then I turned the corner onto the Estafeta. I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t hear her. I walked a little faster. I saw no other women. I was surrounded by men. Men who began jogging, Men who started jumping up and down, slapping each other. Someone asked me if I was scared. And I smiled. Because if I had to list the emotions I was feeling in order from one to one thousand, scared wouldn’t even make the list.
And that’s what I was thinking when The Rocket launched.
I didn’t decide to run after I beat cancer. I didn’t decide to run when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had decided years before. I had decided, but I didn’t have a reason. Would I have still run had I not had cancer? Would I have pushed myself to walk alone to that gate? Would I have found – whatever it is you find at those moments – when the time came to decide between sitting on the fence or risk never sitting again? I don’t know. Probably. Even that morning, there was some doubt I’d be able to run. Even though we’d scoped it out, we weren’t sure exactly HOW it happens. There’s no flyer, no handbook. Some people told me I’d be stopped because I was a woman. Some people said they limit the numbers. I knew when I walked away from Carrie there would be a chance I’d get tossed out or never allowed in in the first place. I left Carrie at 10 till 7. I didn’t walk by her until 3 till 8. We had no contact during that hour. Until I paraded by her and her new friends screaming my name, she had no clue if I’d gotten in or not. Did you know I would be in there? I asked her later. Yes. She said without hesitation. I laughed and asked why and she said simply, Because you said you would be.
So maybe I would have run anyway – even without the cancer. Maybe that’s just the kind of person I am. A woman who does what she sets out to do. A person who walks the edge every now and then. A person unafraid of a little bloodshed, a little stampede, a little hoof to the head. Maybe I didn’t need the cancer to run. Lots of people run who never had cancer. Lots of people face the bulls. And I guess we all have our own reasons. All valid. All good. We all ran together that day. In many ways we were alike – the same. All there. All with our reasons. All running. But secretly I like to think I was the only one there not running from something…
but running to.
On July 10, 2007, I ran with the bulls.