reporter contents :: albright college
|Running with the Bulls|
omputer networker, acoustic musician …and bull runner?
While on vacation in Spain with wife Amy (Harnum) Shea ’93 in July 2003, Tom Shea ’95 partook in the single, most characteristic event of the Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain – the event which has given the fiesta world-wide fame – the Encierro, or, the running of the bulls.
The Shea’s arrived in Pamplona on the night of the opening ceremony of the San Fermin Festival, held July 6 to 14 each year. The morning after their arrival, with excitement and anticipation lingering in the air, Tom dressed in the customary white garb, slung a red sash around his neck and made his way, along with thousands of people from all over the world, to the start of the course. Revelers were everywhere, partying in the streets, singing “Viva San Fermin!” the rallying cry for the fiesta in which runners ask the saint to guide them through the Bull Run and give his blessing. Tom joined the festivities as they proceeded to the course, singing, dancing and carrying on. But as he neared the start line, an elderly woman approached him, “She rubbed rosemary in my palm and gave me a blessing to protect me… This was the precise moment where I became somewhat nervous. The realization hit home that I was about to participate in something very dangerous…my adrenaline kicked in.”
Boom! The rocket to signal the release of the bulls went off…and again… Boom! A second rocket to signify that the bulls were now in the street went off. “As I looked back I noticed people behind me running faster and faster and then you hear the weight of the bulls’ hoofs pounding the cobblestones along with all of the people. It seemed like all at once it became every man for himself,” Tom says.
“If someone is in your way, you go around them, through them, over them, whatever it takes to get out of the way – which I did. Finally, I got off to the side with people packed in front and behind me against a wall – my heart beating a million miles a minute – and the bulls just ran right by.”
Exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time, Tom says, “at this point everyone around you becomes your best friend – everyone hugging and high-fiving – the feeling of relief, combined with the euphoric after-effects of the adrenaline rush leaves everyone in an elated stupor.”
At a safe distance away and perched on a wooden roadblock where she could see the runners, Amy took in the sites. “I wanted to watch him run, but once in position to watch, I realized that there were tens of thousands of people around me and that I would never see him. And I didn’t.”
But for Tom, his run wasn’t over yet. The next day, after he and Amy took part in the all night festivities – bands, dancing and street performers were everywhere, Tom says -- he made his way to the course once again. “I felt a little bit more comfortable on Tuesday, which was a good thing because Tuesday’s run didn’t go as smoothly as Monday’s.” When a bull separated from the pack and turned around to fight, which they are trained to do, one man was thrown into the air. Landing hard on the cobblestones, he suffered a severe head injury, says Tom. “He was an older man and an experienced runner. He remained in a coma for a few months and later died – all for ‘morning fun.’”
Fortunately for Tom, he managed to get to the side once again as the bulls ran by. But, he says, “there was a young guy right by me who fell and was somewhat trampled – he took a few lumps. He was not seriously injured though, just cut up and bruised.”
Despite the potential danger, Tom says he knew he wanted to run before he and Amy even left for their vacation. “One day a marathon of the Encierro was on ESPN2 – they had every year for the past five years on and I sat and watched every one. Amy thought I was crazy.”
But Amy says Tom’s decision to run didn’t surprise her one bit. “Tom’s a unique, adventurous person who moves to the beat of his own drum. It’s what drew him to me in the first place!”
When Tom wasn’t risking life and limb on the streets of Pamplona, however, the couple experienced other Spanish customs as well, such as a wine battle, the culminating celebration for the La Riola wine region’s festival for San Mateo (Saint Matthew). Revelers wear white to the festival, which takes place at the top of a hill that has a sculpture of San Mateo on it, but everyone leaves purple, says Amy. “People had bottles of wine, buckets of wine, squirt guns full of wine, crop-dusters full of wine…and they just doused everyone in their path. One woman dumped an entire bucket of red wine over my head! And it’s not malicious at all – just as in Pamplona, it’s done all in fun and for the joy of the celebration!”
Now back home in Hoboken, N.J., Tom is busy working as the NYC Metro account manager for Atrion Communications Resources, Inc. by day, and playing acoustic guitar and singing in the evenings and on weekends. Amy is an eighth grade special education teacher in the Pequannock Township School District, and a certified yoga instructor working at several gyms and yoga studios in Hoboken, as well as Stevens Institute of Technology. The couple both agrees that their trip was an experience like no other. Says Tom, “I am almost certain that we will be back.”
– Jennifer Post Stoudt