When I saw that, I realized, my God, there’s way more to this than some stupid adrenaline rush. There’s like a code of ethics, a camaraderie, there’s a sense of brotherhood, there’s a sense of putting yourself at risk to save someone else. There's a method to interacting with the animals, a very sophisticated method of handling the animal and trying to help control and guide the animal up the street. That moment really changed me, and I became deeply obsessed with the run and learning about it. I wanted to become a runner like Miguel. I wanted to follow him in that tradition and set on that path. Ten years later, Miguel is a friend of mine. He came to visit me in the hospital [after I was gored]. I’ve done things like that where I’ve helped grab hold of the tail to stop a bull from goring someone. I’ve led bulls, lone bulls, up the street and helped guide them away from people so no one got hurt. I’ve become deeply immersed in the culture. These Spanish runners, they know me, they’re like my brothers.
Another runner, sort of the iconic runner from Pamplona, [is] Juan Pedro Lecuona. I’ve been running with him for a long time. A few years ago, in 2012, we were running shoulder to shoulder—in front of a bull, we were leading the bull up the street together. I started to trip and Juan reached over and caught my arm, and saved me from falling. He hooked my arm, and we ran together like that for a long ways. After I got gored, he started coming to the hospital every day. We started to develop a great friendship.
Khazan: Do you do any training?
Hillmann: I run a lot. Because my leg ... muscle was damaged pretty severely, I’ve kind of had to take it slow this year. I’ve been running a lot lately, and I’m going to slowly build up to sprinting. I have sprinted—I did it just so I knew I could do it—I sprinted five or six times, I can run full speed and I’m okay, my leg holds up fine. I’m lifting weights, doing squats to build up my leg muscles.
Khazan: What was the recovery process from the goring like?
Hillmann: I had a surgery. They gave me an epidural, numbed my whole leg. They were pulling out shards of horn and showing it to me. The doctor stuck his entire finger inside the hole, and that pain was like, I felt like I was being electrocuted from inside my body.
As soon as I figured out I was going to survive, I was so happy, because I thought I was going to die.
I was in [the hospital] for like 11 days, and toward the end I could walk reasonably—I could shuffle. I was on a cane until mid-September [of 2014].
Khazan: Do you know what led to you getting gored? Did you make some critical mistake?
Hillmann: That’s the thing, a lot of people thought it was ironic that I got gored, a lot of people had said, “Did you follow your [own] advice?”
If you run in a dangerous way, if you run in a brave way, you'll be gored eventually. So I always knew I’d get gored, when I set out on that path. That day, when I was running, it was the best run I had that year, it was a beautiful run. I was actually running with Miguel Angel Perez and another runner, David Rodriguez. Those two runners, they’re about the best that there is, they’re two of the great runners. They've both been gored. This is just part of the run.