MERCED — Every time Saberina Toste walks her boyfriend to the bullring, she gives him a kiss always wondering if it will be the last time.
We kiss each other, I wish him good luck, then I go in and watch and pray for the best, Toste said. It could be the last time we kiss. You never know.
The 18-year-old Gustine resident and her boyfriend of two years are involved with the Amadores de Merced, a 24-member team of area forcado bullfighters.
The traditional Portuguese bloodless bullfight involves eight men inside the ring with one bull. The combined weight of the men is intended to equal the weight of a 1,300-pound bull.
The goal of the forcados is to wrestle the bull into submission without injuring the animal. The first bullfighter tries to grab the bulls head, while the other seven huddle around to subdue it. Once they stop the bull from moving, they release it and back away from the animal, marking the end of the fight.
Tostes boyfriend, Jose Pedro Teixeira, has been lucky. Besides a few bumps and bruises, hes never sustained any major injuries during the bullfights.
Team captain Joao Azevedo hasnt been as fortunate. The 27-year-old has broken ribs and teeth, and has been knocked unconscious. Despite those injuries, Azevedo said, being a forcado is like playing a sport he cant get enough of.
Its kind of like a bug that grows inside you, its just something that you want to do, said Azevedo, who has been bullfighting for eight years. The hardest part is when the bull wins. But when you do something you like, the injuries are not that big.
Azevedos wife cheers him on from the sidelines, never forgetting the risk of associated with the heart-pounding bloodless sport.
In the beginning I was nervous; now Im just used to it, said Kerie Azevedo. People do get hurt; people have been to the hospital. Its pretty dangerous.
The Merced team practices at least once a week and travels for dozens of competitions during the season, which runs from April to October. Theyve participated in bullfights in Colorado, Nevada and Canada, Azevedo said.
Azevedo, a native of Portugal, said he began his career at age 9 with cows and graduated to bulls 10 years later.
Before you jump the wall, youre thinking about whether you will get hurt and what the bull is going to do, he said. Once you jump the wall, you just think about finishing and getting the job done.
For the last five years, the Amadores de Merced the youngest group of forcados in the state have formed more than a team; theyve become a family.
Not everyone can be a forcado. Its in their blood. Its a part of them, Toste said. Theres a sense of I need to do this. Its pride for them. Its not just their hobby, its truly a part of them.
The next bullfight for the Amadores de Merced is scheduled for next year.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.