Rancho Santa Fe scientist survives charging bull in Spain


By Joe Tash

Hal Streckert of Rancho Santa Fe went out for a run last month, cracked his forehead on the pavement and needed three stitches.

The story wouldn’t be all that unusual, except that when Streckert, a 57-year-old scientist, fell down, he turned his head to see a bull charging toward him from a few feet away.

At the time, Streckert was in Pamplona, Spain, with hundreds of other people participating in the city’s famous running of the bulls.

“I ran with (the bulls), then went down. That’s a bad thing. When I looked up, a bull was coming right toward me,” Streckert said.

Streckert turned on his side and tried to roll away from the charging animal, and was struck in the back as it went by, driving his forehead into the ground. As he picked himself up, he saw blood dripping onto the street.

“That’s when I knew, my run’s over,” Streckert said. He rolled under a barricade and received first-aid treatment from paramedics, then walked to a local hospital to get stitched up.

Streckert, who works on developing products such as rocket nozzles, satellite batteries and bio fuels for General Atomics in San Diego, traveled to Pamplona in July with his son, Kyle, and a friend, Paul Clark of Vista. It was Streckert’s second visit to Pamplona for the bull run, and each time, he actually ran with the bulls on two separate mornings.

When he’s not dodging large, agitated, horned animals, he enjoys tamer activities, such as sky diving, scuba diving, base-jumping and, in the past, mountain climbing.

“It’s exciting, it makes you feel alive. It’s one of those things in life that takes your breath away and you just have to do it,” he said.

Streckert said that since 1924, 15 people have been killed during the running of the bulls in Pamplona; hundreds are also injured each year.

His wife, Susan, “thinks I’m a little crazy,” but, “she understands this is something I do, something I need.”

Streckert’s son, Kyle, 31, who also lives in Rancho Santa Fe, accompanied his father on both trips to Pamplona, and many other travel adventures. He noted that in all the activities the pair have undertaken, the only times they were hurt was when Kyle received a gash on his arm, and Hal’s recent encounter with the bull.

“Once you start pushing the limit, you have to continue that. If you don’t, it’s like a demotion, like you’re cheating yourself,” said Kyle, who works as a server at the Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar Heights.

In spite of his father’s injury during the Pamplona bull run, Kyle said, “I can’t wait till next year.” Also on the pair’s “to do” list: shark diving, without a cage, in South Africa.

“We enjoy those things because they’re out there, they’re offered and everybody should try to experience them,” Kyle said.

The running of the bulls is part of an annual festival, called San Fermin, which is held in Pamplona from July 6-14. The bull runs are held each morning at 8 a.m., starting the second day.

According to Streckert, participants only need to duck under the barricade before the day’s run, and they can take part. Before the six bulls and six steers are released from the corral into the half-mile long, barricaded course, police check for people who are drunk or carrying cameras, and make them leave. Those under 18 also are not allowed to participate, but Streckert said enforcement is sporadic.

Participants know the bulls have been released when they hear a rocket shot off, and the entire run from corral to bull ring takes about four minutes. Some of the participants make it into the ring, where the first group of bulls is penned, before others are released into the crowd.

Each night, bull fights are held, in which the six original bulls that participated in the morning’s run are killed.

At the end of this year’s festival, four people who were injured during the running of the bulls remained hospitalized, and all were expected to recover, according to the festival’s official website.

Some have protested the running of the bulls and subsequent bull fights, contending they amount to animal cruelty. In past years, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has organized a “running of the nudes” to publicize its concerns, and held topless “lie-ins” on Pamplona streets.