PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) -- An American man was thrown by a young cow and seriously injured Friday in a mock bull fight following the first day of the running of the bulls in Spain's San Fermin festival.
The man, a 31-year-old from New York, was thrown in the bullring by one of five young cows released after the run. Officials said he could not move his legs and was taken to the Hospital de Navarra for an emergency operation. The man was identified only by his initials, R.D.
"He is in very serious condition and could be paralyzed for life," said Pello Pellejero, a Pamplona government spokesman. A hospital official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the man was being operated on urgently.
Six people were injured during the bull run itself, including two seriously: New Zealander David MacDowell, 25, was gored in the thigh, and a Pamplona native, Ramon Garayoa, 46, fell and was trampled.
The bull run began at 8 a.m. when six bulls, each weighing about 3/4 ton, stormed out of a corral where they spent the night, then zoomed up packed Cuesta Santo Domingo street at the start of the 900-meter run. They were accompanied by six castrated steers who know the route and are meant to keep the bulls in a single pack.
Thousands of runners - armed with courage and a little too much to drink - packed Pamplona's narrow cobblestone streets, most wearing a traditional white shirt and pants, and sporting red handkerchiefs. Even the most experienced among them could only keep in front of the animals for a short distance.
Five of the bulls then stormed into the Plaza de Toros, where some of Spain's better-known bullfighters were taking them on in fights later in the day.
The 31-year-old New Yorker was injured in what is known as a vaquilla, in which hundreds of people chase five cows around the bull ring, pulling their ears and tail. The cows are much smaller than fighting bulls, and have much less imposing horns, but they still weigh nearly half a ton and can be dangerous.
Before the man's injuries became known, runners said their brush with death was everything they had hoped for.
"It was total emotion. It was absolutely crazy. The bull was right next to me and I touched him," said Norman Rilling, 25, from Bakersfield, Calif.
Bulls are surprisingly fast animals, and many of the runners had been up all night drinking. Police have been instructed not to let anybody who looks too inebriated take part in an effort to cut down on injuries.
But that is easier said then done, and many participants had clearly had long nights.
Julio Bernavides Alvaran, a 65-year-old who came to the festival from Valencia in southeastern Spain, said he wandered the streets for hours looking for a place to sleep, then had the bright idea of using his credit card to get into an empty bank machine cubicle.
Still, he only had a couple of hours of rest before the run, which he described as the thrill of a lifetime.
"Life disappears, and you feel your blood moving in your veins," said Bernavides Alvaran. "Either that, or it's all the whiskey."
The San Fermin festival dates back to the late 16th century, though its roots reach back further, to the era when Spain was first Christianized. But the festival became famous when it was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises." A bronze bust of the writer stands proudly outside the bullring where the bull runs end.