by Daniel Silva
Pamplona, Spain, July 10, 2012 (AFP) - After years of dreaming about it, Oneika Raymond finally joined a growing band of women lured by the Spanish thrill of being chased by giant, fighting bulls through Pamplona.
"I survived, I am so happy," the 29-year-old Canadian said just moments after she completed the third bull run of the annual San Fermin festival on Monday.
"It was exhilarating, exciting and frightening," added Raymond, who works as a teacher in London, as she stood outside the northern city's bull ring alongside the three other women with whom she ran.
A generation ago it was extremely rare for a woman to take part in the daily bull runs of the alcohol-fueled San Fermin festival, which dates back to medieval times.
But more and more women, mostly from outside of Spain, are seeking the thrill of dashing ahead of the half-tonne beasts as they thunder along a 850-metre (2,800-foot) course from a holding pen to Pamplona's bull ring.
Of the 20,500 people who took part in the festival's eight bull runs last year, six percent were women, according to a study prepared for Pamplona city hall.
"There has never been a law against women running with the bulls. It is a question of tradition. In Pamplona a man ran to show his love for a women, it was one of the main reasons," said Paula Diaz of Pamplona's bull run museum.
"But little by little, as the years have passed, women have dared to race in front of the bulls with courage. It is still not well regarded because breaking with tradition is complicated but a woman has the same right as a man to run."
Raymond said she did not feel male runners were bothered by her presence the run -- and they did not show women any special treatment.
"I think it was every man for himself regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. I think everyone was just trying to survive and get out of the bulls' way," said Raymond, who was struck in the face during a pile-up of runners.
Three men -- two Britons and an American -- were skewered during Monday's run by a 550-kilogramme (1,200-pound) black bull that broke free from the pack and then charged into a crowd of runners dressed in white and red who were cowering by wooden barriers set up on the side of the road.
Another four men were injured in falls and needed hospital treatment for bruises and a dislocated shoulder.
Raymond and her three companions only learned of the injuries after the run was over. None of the women was hurt in the run.
Men 'ten times more likely' to back out
The group was formed after Jeannie Mark, a 41-year-old Canadian who works as a teacher in China, made an appeal on a Facebook group for other women who would be interested in taking part together in a bull run in Pamplona.
All four women run their own travel blogs and had read each other's writing before but had not met in person in person until heading to Pamplona.
They set up a joint blog to write about their adventure called Girls Run With Bulls (http://girlsrunwithbulls.com).
"The four of us are trying to encourage other women to do more unusual things," said Mark, who quit her desk job, sold her possessions and embarked on a new life dedicated to traveling two years ago.
"As women we are sometimes not encouraged to do things that can push your limits and be adventurous. Men and boys are encouraged to do that from a young age."
The group, which also includes an American and and Australian, prepared for the bull run by watching a run on Sunday from an apartment balcony and by reading up on strategies to remain safe.
"It is about doing it well with other women. I definitely want to represent women well, but I am also trying to test my personal limits," said Raymond, whose previous travel adventures include hiking in Nepal and camping in Africa.
Women tend to prepare more before taking part in a bull run and are far less likely than men to back out at the last minute, according to Ryan King, the president of Spyns, a Canadian travel company that takes people to the San Fermin festival.
"They know about the statistics, the risks, and once in Pamplona rarely change their minds," he wrote on the company's website.
"Men on the other hand generally talk a big game both during the reservation process and once in Pamplona. However, once near or on the bull run I estimate they are ten times more likely to call it quits than a woman."