RENTON, Wash. — Russell Okung had about a month break between the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ minicamp in June and the start of training camp.
It was the perfect opportunity for the Pro Bowl left tackle to take a little trip and do a little running — with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
“Well I like hearing that he made it,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I did ask him, ‘Did you really run with bulls? Did you run alongside of them?’ I think he might have been running alongside the last bull though. But he did make it so ... yeah I was happy to hear that he survived it.”
Taking part in one of the world’s most famous festivals — especially ones involving charging bulls — just weeks before the start of training camp is probably not what the Seahawks wanted to see out of their franchise left tackle. But the 25-year-old isn’t interested in sitting back and missing out unique experiences.
“I think it’s extremely important. We’re young guys and we have this whole life ahead of us to really enjoy the experiences that life has to offer, so why not?” Okung said. “You get the opportunity you’re afforded to even go out there and so it’s pretty good, you should.”
Going to Spain was always an interest of Okung’s, but the idea of Pamplona and participating in the nine-day San Fermin festival didn’t start until a few months ago when he began researching the country. All it took was stumbling upon one picture of a participant in the festival getting gored by a bull for Okung to be convinced that was where he needed to go.
“I was looking at stuff that I wanted to do and all of a sudden I see a guy getting gored by a bull and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do,”’ he said.
With the help of his agent, Peter Schaeffer, Okung made the trip in early July to the northern part of Spain. While the picture of a runner getting gored was the impetus for going to Pamplona, Okung made sure not to watch video of the event prior to getting there.
“I didn’t want to talk myself out of it. I just went out there and did it,” he said.
Okung was probably correct in not researching too much into the famous festival. The festival dates back to the late 16th century and also is known for its all-night street parties. The runs, eight in all, are the highlight of a nine-day street festival to honor Pamplona’s patron saint, San Fermin. Each morning, six fighting bulls and six bell-tinkling steers that try to keep the beasts together head from stables to the bullring where matadors star in late afternoon bullfights.
Dozens of people are injured each year, with gorings often producing the most dramatic injuries. The last fatal goring happened in 2009. On the final day of this year’s festival, 23 runners were injured.
“All I know is you have a plan and it goes straight out the window,” Okung said.
And his bosses weren’t very happy with his decision.
“It didn’t go too well. It didn’t go too well,” he said. “But the thing they knew about me is they knew I would be safe and as much as I could do the right thing.”