On Saturday, in a wildly popular take on the centuries-old Spanish tradition of El Encierro, or The Running of the Bulls, more than 200 gleeful, bat-wielding be-horned roller derby girls will pursue thousands of willing victims along a mile-long course beginning and ending at The Sugar Mill, 1021 Convention Blvd., as part of the Crescent City’s 10th annual San Fermin en Nueva Orleans festival.

El Encierro is the heart of the world-famous festival of San Fermin. Falling every year between July 6 and July 14, each year in the Spanish city of Pamplona fighting bulls chase crowds of fleeing men along narrow streets in honor of Saint Fermin, who, it is said, met his untimely martyrdom being dragged through the city followed by a savage herd of angry bulls.

Set to coincide with Pamplona’s encierro, this year’s San Fermin en Nueva Orleans will take place from Friday to Sunday. It’s a weekend packed with live music, pre-parties, after-parties, after-after parties, an Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest, a dunk tank and even, for the adventurously bouncy, a mechanical bull. But for many people, the joyously anarchic Running of the Bulls, starring New Orleans’ home roller derby team, the Big Easy Roller Girls, remains the highlight of San Fermin en Nueva Orleans.

Founded in 2005, the roller derby team members were scattered by Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to an avalanche of support by other roller derby leagues across America, Big Easy Roller Girls not only survived the storm but came home and started recruiting.

One such post-Katrina recruit was artist Lauren Soboul Villegas. In 2007, Villegas, aka Cheap Thrills, participated in the very first Running of the Bulls in New Orleans.

“Tracey Bellina-Milazzo, one of the founders of NOLA Bulls, which puts on this event, was also a Roller Girl, so she reached out to us,” Villegas said. “It was such a fledgling event, with maybe 13 skater-bulls in the French Quarter. We were hoping that maybe 100 people would show up. That first year, I think we got around 150, and we were just over the moon!”

As part of one of the fastest-growing festivals in New Orleans, it didn’t take long until the Running of the Bulls outgrew its founders’ expectations — and the French Quarter. In 2012, the event was opened up to roller derby leagues from both across America and overseas, and, according to Tracey Bellina-Milazzo, aka Archbishop Pummel, spectators this year can expect to see more than 300 roller girls chasing anywhere between 15,000 to 18,000 runners.

“I think the run is so popular because it has that New Orleans sense of silliness, fun and debauchery to it — without the risk of getting gored to death by an actual bull,” Bellina-Milazzo said. “And since this is our 10th run, it is going to be bigger and badder than ever before.”

A high-octane event for everyone involved, initially the rules of engagement between Roller Bulls and runners were somewhat slap-dash, according to Villegas. Today, safety stipulations regulate both the type of bat used by the bulls and where on the runners’ bodies that bat can be used.

“We all use undecorated hollow, foam-covered bats,” Villegas said. “We don’t hit people on their upper body, or the front of their body — we are not trying to hurt anyone. It is all in fun, although some people do like to come up and show us their butts afterwards.”

However, for Villegas — currently on roller derby sabbatical due to an injury she suffered in 2014 — being a former Big Easy Roller Girl and current participant in the Running of the Bulls means much more to her than just fun.

“Joining (Big Easy Roller Girls) helped me get over the trauma of Katrina,” Villegas said. “Roller derby was very cathartic. I could get out there and play, no matter what else was going on, and it gave me focus and a physical outlet for the intense emotions I was feeling at the time — my rage and my helplessness. For me, the Running of the Bulls is euphoric, good, light-hearted fun. It is the perfect amalgamation of the things people in this city love to do, and what people love to come to this city to do.”

And while it is difficult to pick out just one favorite skater-bull memory from “so very many amazing memories,” Villegas said, one particular moment in 2014 does stand out.

“That was the year that I finally spotted my husband, Devon, in the crowd of runners,” she laughed. “He had eluded me for years! It was like, finally! I am coming to get you!”

More information about San Fermin en Nueva Orleans is available at nolabulls.com.

Proceeds benefit Beth’s Friends Forever and Animal Rescue of New Orleans.