He'd always wanted to cross that item off his bucket list. An old-time feat of strength that evokes adventure-forged character by mention. Rob Dickens and his friends had long dreamt of flying to Pamplona, Spain, for the running of the bulls, but carving out time to make the trip was daunting. Every year, he said, it seemed like "more and more of an impossible feat."
So last fall he decided to bring the sport stateside.
Dickens, the chief operating officer of Rugged Maniac, a sweaty, muddy 5K obstacle race, has experience organizing extreme sporting events. All he needed were the bulls. He found ranches in Kentucky and California that could provide them, and the Great Bull Run was born.
On Feb. 1, the event will come to the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, where two groups of six bulls will be released through waves of runners dashing down a quarter-mile track. It's the fourth of nine such events scheduled around the country, starting with an Aug. 24 run in Petersburg, Va.
The event website, written with the diction of some late-night college dare, assures those considering the run that they will be "Running. With. Live. Bulls" and notes that bulls generally run a four-minute mile.
"It's not as dangerous as you think," the website says. "In fact, there have been only 15 deaths in the Pamplona (Spain) running of the bulls in the past 102 years!"
Still, competitors will have to sign a waiver.
Registration starts at $40 in July and will climb to $85 as the race draws nearer. Eight hourly run times are scheduled with other events interspersed. The manicured grounds of Little Everglades, a 2,000-acre ranch with moss-draped oaks and rolling hills that once hosted a high-brow steeplechase event, will be the setting for the Tomato Royale food fight.
The event has already drawn the ire of animal rights activists. Dickens said he has received threats from animal rights activists, and earlier this month a Facebook page called Halt The Great Bull Run sprang up.
"They just lose their minds about the running of the bulls and won't listen to anything we say," Dickens said in a phone interview from Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Facebook page, which had 31 likes Thursday afternoon, shows gruesome photos and video of gored people and mistreated bulls in the Spain runnings. It claims that the bulls will be endangered and abused.
Dickens said the bulls at his events won't be killed afterward or abused to make them run. He said horse-mounted riders will urge them along. The bulls will have adequate food, water, sun and sleep, he said.
The company will take the bulls, with dulled horns, through trial and practice runs before putting them on a track with runners, Dickens said.
The event, which is nearly a year away, hasn't applied yet for the necessary permits. Richard Rappoli, development review technician who oversees permitting for such events in Pasco County, said he first heard of the run when a Tampa Bay Times reporter left a message for him Thursday afternoon.
He said the event would have to be approved by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Office of Emergency Management, Pasco County Health Department as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if beer is served. The permitting process normally takes at least two months, he said.
Dickens said he hasn't run up against restrictive zoning laws or permits in any of the venues he's booked. On paper, he said, the Great Bull Run is similar to a rodeo.
He acknowledged the dangers of the run. He compared it to sky diving, bungee jumping or climbing Mount Everest. There is an inherent risk in crossing through spaces on a bucket list.
"Yeah, it's dangerous," he said, "and you know it's dangerous, but that's part of the thrill."
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The organizer of the Great Bull Run planned for Dade City and other locations said he has received threats from some animal rights activists, though none from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The original version of this article misstated the source of the threats.