When runners hit the streets of downtown Pensacola for the annual Running of the Bulls on July 15, they won’t just be participating in one of Pensacola’s quirkiest traditions, they’ll be helping a good cause.
For the second year, Seville Quarter is donating proceeds from the race to USO Northwest Florida, which provides a number of services to active-duty military.
The run is the culmination of three days of events called “Fiesta de San Fermin en Pensacola,” a lighthearted tribute to the traditions of Pamplona, Spain. Hundreds of people will “run for their lives” from a massive number of “bulls” — roller derby girls in horns armed with wiffleball bats, ready to chase down the runners and issue a powerful backside swat — followed by a post-race celebration that includes complimentary beverages and Spanish paella.
The event is in its seventh year, and Seville Quarter officially designated the USO as its beneficiary in 2017, according to race coordinator Susi Lyon.
“Pensacola is a great military town,” Lyon said. “Some of these kids coming here are 18 and have never left home. To have someone meet them at the airport with a cold drink and help getting them to the base is important.”
Lyon said last year’s race raised $2,000 for USO Northwest Florida, all of which stays local, and Seville Quarter expects to exceed that this year.
“Personally, I would love to double it,” she said. “I think one of the things this year is that nobody’s thinking much past Blue Angels Air Show week, so I think they’ll wake up Monday or Tuesday and realize it’s that Saturday.”
Even so, Lyon said registrations are already close to last year’s numbers. There’s no maximum capacity for the race, so there is still plenty of time to register and do your part.
“We’ve got shirts for 400 runners, and even if we run out of shirts, you’ll still get a wristband (to take part in the post-race party) for a donation to the USO.”
Registered racers get a T-shirt, a bandanna and an official race number, which you’ll need to receive the free food and drink at the post-race party.
Lyon estimates that about twice as many people show up to participate in the fun as register in the race. In the interest of maintaining a community atmosphere, Seville Quarter does allow unregistered runners to participate in the Running of the Bulls, but those who don’t register don’t get the goodies.
“But if you want to come down and get beat by a roller derby girl, go for it,” she said.
The Pensacola Roller Gurlz, Pensacola’s roller derby team, heads up the contingent of “bulls,” and invites a number of other teams from throughout the region to participate in the fun.
“You see these girls, they’re kind of rough looking and they’re tough, but they have such big hearts,” Lyon said. “A lot of them are mothers, and they love to be there for the community.”
That said, don’t expect the derby divas to go gentle on your backside. While they won’t do any lasting damage, they’ve been known to leave bruises — especially when they set up “The Gauntlet,” a tunnel of bulls that you have to pass through to cross the finish line.
If the race doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, there are other ways through the weekend to show your support for USO Northwest Florida.
We’ll have the USO van down here and you can come down and make a cash contribution,” Lyon said. “And the USO is asking for bottled water this year, so anyone who can drop off a case or two at the van, that would be wonderful.”
Luke Price, who runs the USO Northwest Florida’s facility at Pensacola Naval Air Station, said the organization has benefited from being involved with the Running of the Bulls far beyond the money raised.
“It’s a very fun event, and it’s relatively fruitful, too,” Price said. “The community comes together downtown and helps promote our mission, and it’s a good community event. The people who come out are very supportive, and beyond what Seville does for us, they let us set up outreach tables at events leading up to the run, and we accept donations for various swag items.”
Price said outreach has become a very important part of keeping USO in the public eye. He believes that in the absence of well-known spokespeople like Bob Hope and Robin Williams, who were famous for their associations with the organization, the younger generation may not be aware of the USO and what it does.
“Pretty much anybody born after the early ‘80s doesn’t know what the USO is, unless they come from a military background,” Price said. “It’s not as publicized as it used to be, so coming to these events gives us the opportunity to inform people who may not have heard of the USO. And other people think that we’re only in airports and do things like concerts, and we offer a lot more these days.”
For instance, Price talked about some of the many services USO Northwest Florida offers at its 10,000-square-foot facility at Pensacola NAS, one of the largest and busiest in the world.
“We serve about 10,000 active-duty sailors a month, typically from 18 to 22 years old,” Price said. “So we really want to be a home away from home where they can come and relax and get away from the day-to-day. We try to be a rank-free environment where everybody can coexist and be happy. We have two kitchens, one usually has a volunteer cooking a meal, but we’re a snack-based facility, so we can’t always guarantee “home cooking.” We have a full recreational facility with pool tables, dartboards, foosball tables, movie rooms, computers with internet access, a kids area, and we just re-did our music room thanks to some lovely donors, so we have 15 guitars and four keyboards and a quiet, relaxing place to play music. We have a regular events calendar where we put on things each month to engage them outside the barracks. We recently had our video game rooms re-done, and we have 16 TVs, each with their own Xbox One or PS4, with virtual reality and a racing simulator.”
The organization is also at work on a new facility at Corry Station.
The run and subsequent party culminates the Fiesta de San Fermin en Pensacola, and represents the event’s charitable aspect. But the event begins Thursday with a Spanish wine dinner at Seville Quarter that Lyon said “looks amazing.”
“It’s tapas, so it’s not real heavy,” she said. “And what makes it so much fun is that we sit family style and we yell ‘ole!’ and make a big deal of it. It’s not a stuffy wine dinner, by any means.”
Seville Quarter’s resident wine expert, Bill Carlson, has chosen Spanish wines to pair with the food.
For more information on the Running of the Bulls and the rest of Fiesta de San Fermin en Pensacola, visit www.sevillequarter.com.
Want to go?
WHAT: Running of the Bulls to benefit USO Northwest Florida
WHEN: 9 a.m. July 15
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
REGISTRATION: $25 through July 13; $30 on run day
DETAILS: 434-6211, or visit www.sevillequarter.com