Be advised. Don’t compare what you have done this summer with Manchester resident Les Carlson. He’s got you beat.
After competing in the National Senior Track and Field games in Albuquerque, N.M., in June, the 86-year-old hopped on a plane and headed to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls.
While the former West Delaware teacher and track coach has stayed active in senior track and field events for years, the running of the bulls at the San Fermin Festival in Spain did let Carlson cross an item off his bucket list.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” he said. “I live on the edge. I always have. I seek things out that are a little dangerous. I’d tightrope walk if I could, but one misstep there and you’re done. I’ve always loved competition and I love a little danger.”
Standing on a Pamplona street five minutes before the 8 a.m. release of the bulls July 9, Carlson began to have second thoughts. “I had a feeling of anxiety that turned to fear. I thought ‘What am I doing here? Maybe I shouldn’t be here.’”
Carlson said the feeling left as soon as he saw the crowd surging toward him. “They ran until they felt it was dangerous. I got a glimpse of the bulls as the crowd parted.”
He said he waited until the bulls were 50 yards from him before he began to run.
“I started running with the others, looking back all the time. When they got within 20 yards of me, I veered off to the side. The bulls whizzed past me just a couple of arms lengths from me.”
Carlson said a chance one or more of the bulls would double back was a concern on the narrow streets. “Had that happened, I had no place to go,” he explained.
Of the 12 bulls that are released each day of the 10-day festival, only 11 had gone by.
“They went by as a herd and I thought that was it. I started to follow along. All of a sudden, the crowd behind me rushed forward. They release one bull they call a trailer, later than the others. That bull was now coming down the street.”
Carlson said he got over to the side but was knocked down and stepped on by the crowd, bruising his shoulder.
His niece accompanied him in San Fermin, and took photos and video of the event as best she could. The two also spent some time in sidewalk cafes taking in the festival.
“It’s quite a festival. They really celebrate. It goes on all through the night,” Carlson said.
At the National Senior Games in June, Carlson finished 11th in the 50-meter run and also competed in the javelin throw. A hamstring injury forced him out of the 100.
It was his first time qualifying for the national games. “I love to run and to compete. The games are in Florida in two years. My goal is to compete in them in four years and try to win the 100 meters and the javelin throw when I’m 90.”
Carlson ran in the first Chicago Marathon in 1978 and rode on a couple of RAGBRAI bike rides across Iowa. In 2000, he parachuted.
“I thought the parachute jump was the highlight of my life, but it didn’t come anywhere close to running with the bulls.”
Carlson already has plans next summer to drive a race car at a track somewhere. “I’d really like to drive an open-wheel car at Indianapolis.”
This fall he will compete in senior track events in Nebraska in August and South Dakota in September. And he’s still in search of that next adrenaline-filled experience.
“I’ve not had a hot air balloon ride. That would be fun. If someone can think of anything else, let me know because I’m searching.”