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Thousands participate in Great Bull Run at Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers

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Thousands of people traveled from as far away as Arizona to experience the thrill of running with the bulls Saturday as part of the Great Bull Run at the Georgia International Horse Park. One minor injury was reported when a bull stepped on a participant’s foot. (Special Photo: Jim Brack)

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Participants in Saturday’s Bull Run also took part in the Tomato Royale, a tomato-throwing free-for-all that left the ground looking like tomato soup. (Special Photo: Jim Brack)

CONYERS — For the daredevils among the nearly 4,000 participants at Saturday’s Great Bull Run, the question was not “why,” but “why not?”

Runners who paid for the opportunity to be chased by a bull or steer in the Grand Prix Arena at the Georgia International Horse Park were greeted by a light rain that stopped in time for the first run.

Many of them dressed in the white outfits, red handkerchiefs and red scarves in the tradition of the more famous bull run in the annual festival of San Femin in Pamplona, Spain. All said they were doing it for the fun of it.

“It’s for a different experience,” said Angel Lee, who traveled to Conyers, with her friend, Stacey Singleton. Singleton’s mother, Joy Singleton, also joined the pair and said she was there for moral support and “blood, if needed.”

Asked for their strategy for out-running the bulls, all three women said “to run like the wind.”

Austin Brumley of Lawrenceville said running with the bulls was his way of celebrating his birthday Saturday with his friends Nick Kaminiski and Jesse Nebel, both from Athens.

“For me, it’s a chance to celebrate life. Today is my birthday, so I thought it would be a great way to celebrate. It is an adrenaline rush,” Brumley said.

Asked if they have participated in other extreme events like Saturday’s Bull Run, Kaminiski said, “I’ve done skydiving and I’ve gone to Texas to hit a Longhorn in the head.”

Not all runners wore the traditional white outfits with red handkerchiefs. Some decided to shine in their own way in different costumes. Many participants had cameras strapped on their heads, arms and chests to memorialize the experience on video.

Brandy Boss of Villa Rica was dressed in a full matador outfit along with a pencil-thin mustache drawn on her upper lip. As she moved in the line with her fellow runners for the first bull run of the day, Boss explained she is drawn to doing things differently.

“I love doing these crazy things,” she said. “I’ve done the extreme runs, too, like the Mudder and Spartan races. I just have to do them.”

Saturday’s event was organized in six separate heats, or “bull runs,” 30 minutes apart. Per instructions given before each run, 18 bulls and steers were released and expected to stampede at 30 mph. Runners had the choice of running ahead of the bulls or staying on the sides of the course that was cordoned off by temporary cattle fencing. Runners were told they could climb over the fencing or take refuge in one of the several V-shape indents in the fencing along the course in the Grand Prix Arena.

The bulls seemed confused at the start of the first run of the day, with a few attempting to turn around. Cowboys on horseback directed the bulls down the track and soon the run was what many expected.

“I was disappointed that they let all the bulls out at the same time, but otherwise it was great,” said Phi Nguyen of Stone Mountain, who dressed up like the superhero, The Flash.

Organizers were faced with controversy in getting the event held at all. The promoters received the required state permits from the Georgia Department of Agriculture just days before the event. Also, the Animal Legal Defense Fund petitioned Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black to not issue the permits citing a need to protect public health and animal welfare. An online petition against the Bull Run had attracted more than 3,000 signatures.

Despite the pre-event dissension, there were no signs of protesters at Saturday’s events. Rob Dickens, chief operating officer with The Great Bull Run LLC, said that every effort was made to treat the animals with respect and meet all federal, state and local requirements.

“Believe me, if we weren’t permitted, the USDA would be out here right now shutting us down,” Dickens said.

Dickens said his goal was to eventually make money on the Bull Runs, but his company was not there yet. Conyers was the second stop in a series of Bull Runs for this year with the next event planned for Dec. 7 in Houston. The first was held in August in Virginia. Eight Bull Runs are planned for across the country next year, according to the event’s website.

Dickens added that he believed the draw to the Bull Runs is that they are something out of the ordinary for people. He described the event as a way for people to break out of the four walls of the office they work in each week and perhaps provide the opportunity for a good story.

Matthew Oberholtzer agreed. Covered in green body paint and dressed as the Incredible Hulk, Oberholtzer said he was happy to come down to run with the bulls even if it was on an overcast day in Conyers.

“Hey, when people ask you, just say that you ran with the bulls. You don’t have to tell them that you did it in Georgia,” Oberholtzer said.