- Photo by Jared Howerton
- Runners flee roller bulls in the Running of the NOLA Bulls.
There's no specific TSA protocol for artificial bull horns. Kimberly Warren wrapped her horn-spiked roller derby helmet just for safe keeping when she flew from Anchorage, Alaska, to San Fermin in Nueva Orleans last year.
"I put clay horns and flowers on my helmet," Warren says. "I wanted to make sure the horns survived the trip."
She let her twin sister, who lives in Mississippi, provide her with a plastic bat, the actual dangerous weapon of a New Orleans bull. The two were among the 400 stampeders who chased an estimated 14,000 white- and red-clad runners in the streets of last year's Running of the Bulls. As the annual event's fame has spread, roller bulls and runners have come from as far away as Alaska and Canada to participate. (A rollergirl from Minnesota put antlers on her helmet.)
The 2012 Running of the Bulls is 8 a.m. Saturday morning, starting from the Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd.), and other events include El Txupinazo, a free pre-party on Friday with music by Los Po-Boy-Citos, also at the Sugar Mill.
In five years, the event has grown from a word-of-mouth gathering in the French Quarter to a spectacle of thousands. Feeding the large crowd of runners onto the mile-long course has forced organizers to move it out of the French Quarter to a larger home base. The bulls are split into groups. One group is released at the start of the run and others are stationed along the route to ambush unsuspecting runners.
San Fermin in Nueva Orleans founder Mickey "Padrino" Henning ran with actual bulls in Pamplona, Spain, in 2002. That event stretches for a week and there are daily bull runs in the morning and bullfights in the evening. It's one of several Spanish cities that have bull runs.
In 2007, Henning gathered friends to plan the first Running of the Bulls in New Orleans. There were 13 roller bulls and an estimated 200 runners. The group's only costs were to print 100 T-shirts, which Henning expected to sell to the group of friends who were participating.
The popularity of the event has forced a much higher level of planning and cost. Henning incorporated the organization and now has a volunteer staff of more than 25 people. It's still a free event, but participants can support it by registering online, and the fee includes a T-shirt, bandana and drink credits. There's also VIP registration which includes an open bar and access to an indoor hospitality area before and after the event. Vivaz! performs after the run.
The recruiting of bulls also expanded, and women from roller derby leagues around the country come to New Orleans for the event. Among the guidelines they get for attire and rules is an advisory on "goring" runners.
"How hard would you hit your grandmother — who you love?" says chief bull wrangler Tracey Bellina. That's with a San Fermin-approved light plastic flat bat.
If runners enrage a bull, they're on their own as far as personal responsibility. Bellina concedes she's been tempted.
"This one guy stopped and was taunting me," she recalls from the event's third year. "I hit him so hard the bat bounced back and hit me, and I fell down."
The official "firm but gentle" approach is more the norm, however, many of the runners not only wear the traditional white and red clothes of the runners but add targets and worded taunts to their costumes. For the masochists among the thousands of runners, such labeling helps them stick out in the crowd.
Since the event draws many spectators, official rules advise those with pets or small children to stay on the sidewalks.
While the run has proven very popular, it lasts less than an hour. Henning is working on building up the after party and other events and hopes to find a venue that can house all the events and be a more permanent home. This year, 12 Bar (608 Fulton St.) is the site of La Fiesta de Pantalones party Saturday and Sunday's El Pobre de Mi, a brunch and celebration of Ernest Hemingway and his account of the Running of the Bulls. There's a wine dinner at 7 on Fulton Thursday.
Future growth may depend on more research.
"I need to go experience it again to see what else we can do," Henning says.