Gonzalo Caballero: “Infanta Elena has a huge heart and will be in the bullfight today”

He has been waiting for today for months and all that remains is to give it his all in the square. Four bulls are the ones he will fight Gonzalo Caballero this afternoon in the Plaza de Las Rozas and a single purpose that justifies fear and magnifies courage: raise funds for childhood cancer research with the La Sonrisa de María project. Caballero is not only dedicated to helping fight Ewing Sarcoma, but he is a different person from the day he met María, the 11-year-old girl who stole his heart, and with whom he will continue fighting so that science finds solutions to this disease.

For now, today has an afternoon that, he hopes, will be glorious. And also a past that no one suspected would end up taking him to the bullring if it were not for the passion that his father had for bullfighting and the contagion that he made to his son by taking him to the bullring very early on. In 2015 he took the alternative in Las Ventas, the temple par excellence, and Gonzalo has experienced a lot every time he has put on the suit of lights. A very hard goring did not take him away nor did his desire to continue in the ring and that is why he knows what fear, pain and glory is, but above all the passion that only a bullfighter feels when he is ready to give everything, even life, for a good job. Although in his day his friendship with the Marichalar Borbón was much commented on, today Gonzalo does not want to talk about Froilán or Victoria Federica, but he does praise the work in support of the bulls that Infanta Doña Elena always demonstrates. Over the years, Caballero knows how to fight, and not only in the bullrings.

Today the day that has been preparing for more than four months has finally arrived. How do you feel about your big afternoon?

GC: On the one hand, I feel very excited, because when we started this project it was a leap into the void with many fears, and I assure you that we never imagined the great impact it has had and how society has become involved. All of Spain is with La Sonrisa de María, and I think the kick-off the other day in the Atleti-Barcelona match was the best example. Mary’s message represents many children and families fighting this terrible disease. I lost my father and at that time I did not realize the importance of research. It has been at María’s side where I have understood the message that must be given and it has been impressive to see everyone’s reaction. I assure you that I have rarely been as nervous as today precisely because of everything those four bulls represent and the emotional burden that it entails.

Just facing four bulls in the same afternoon is enough to be afraid of. And if you add to that that you want to give a great afternoon so that everyone feels proud…

GC: All bullfighters are afraid, and courage is precisely the ability to overcome fear. There is fear and responsibility. When I started this project I decided to fight four bulls because I thought it was the most convenient thing to do, but I assure you that it is very difficult to face this afternoon. I do it for my father, what he loved most in this world, and for the bond that María and I have created and what we represent.

He lost his father too young to cancer.

GC: We had a special bond. His passion was bullfighting and he was by my side 24 hours a day. What life is, because now I find many things about my father in María and at his side I mitigate the pain of these seven years without him. I think he’ll be proud of me from up there, and now I feel closer than ever. Maybe this is why it’s all so special to me.

What was it like the day you announced to your family that you wanted to be a bullfighter at the age of 16?

GC: Every weekend I went with my father to soccer and bullfighting and I had those two passions. But the bulls pushed me more. I can assure you that despite all the gorings I have suffered, bullfighting is a vocation and the profession chooses you. I know, especially after the last goring that left me dead for nine minutes. Any other profession would make you change your life but mine transcends your own being and no matter what happens you keep going. Fate had prepared for me that I had to be a bullfighter. It is very hard but the most beautiful thing that exists.

Those nine minutes that he was more dead than alive must leave consequences…

GC: I have a nerve injury that sometimes causes me to trip or cause my leg to not function properly… but the physical aspect, I assure you, is secondary since what really affects you is the psychological factor. You are never the same person again. This goring changed me inside and being in the ICU connected to a dialysis machine makes you value many other things and above all see the merit of your colleagues who put themselves in front of a bull. Mentally it has been difficult for me to overcome this mess and that is why this year I decided not to return to Las Ventas, because the two afternoons last year at the San Isidro Fair weighed on me a lot. I understood that I was not one hundred percent ready to return to the place where everything happened and in a way if I am so dedicated to charitable issues it is because you learn to value what really matters in life. I am lucky to be a bullfighter and a speaker in many areas of society to carry this message.

Not all matadors have been as serious as you, but they do not cease in their efforts to continue facing death. Do you think you are prepared for what may happen?

GC: I learned that as a child when I went to the Bullfighting School in Madrid. There was a sign that said “Reaching the bullfighting stage is almost a miracle, but he who reaches the bull can take his life but never his glory.” Glory and honor take precedence over life and you see that as you advance in the profession despite the hard times we have experienced with teachers like Víctor Barrio or Iván Fandiño. It’s when it turns you upside down and you have to start over from scratch, because they are very hard situations to assimilate, but that is our reality, the toll and price we have to pay.

What does glory taste like?

GC: It is something very personal and surely each bullfighter would tell you something. I’ve been trying to psychoanalyze myself for years and you understand that glory is something volatile. One day you think that glory is triumphing in Madrid and another you understand that they are moments like the other day, when María hugged me after giving the kick-off and fulfilling her dreams. I wouldn’t change that moment for any big door. I think I am on the path and the fact is that bullfighting gives you privileges such as being a speaker of society and that people want to be by your side. Bullfighting gives you a lot but it also has a hard toll.

Not all of society is in favor of bulls, much less many politicians and movements on social networks. It seems that being a bullfighter today is not very well regarded.

GC: The problem with bullfighting is that it has become politicized and the bullfighter is not from any party, so our job is to get out of those parameters. I have friends from the left and right who are fans and also anti-bullfighting. The important thing is to know how to respect each other and be faithful to your convictions. It must be understood that the bull is an animal in danger of extinction and survives thanks to bullfights. During the pandemic, the bulls went in trucks to the slaughterhouses because there were no fairs and there were no anti-bullfighting people wanting to rescue them. You have to explain things well so that people have an informed opinion. I ask for respect and I assure you that in my world there is a lot of social involvement and I prove it now with this initiative.

He says he has friends everywhere, even in the royal family. Is she still in contact with Froilán and Victoria Federica?

GC: At this moment I prefer not to touch on that topic but what I can tell you is that Infanta Elena is a wonderful person. She is very dedicated to María. She will be supporting us today at the bullfight and at the gala and she assured us that she was very excited to collaborate. She will be with María and I know that she has a huge heart.

María is part of his life and suffers from a very serious illness. This goring is much harder than what she can suffer in a plaza.

GC: Maria is an adorable, smiling girl who is always laughing and joking. When I lived with my father during his chemotherapy process, I saw how he went from being the strongest man I knew to a very broken and exhausted state. Today I look at María and I’m amazed by how she handles it. She came to the gala in the middle of treatment and you can’t see what strength she has. Like the day of kick-off, we went to dinner and thought about leaving early, but she was the one who wanted to continue. She is a being of light that God has sent to earth to give us a message. Her smile represents thousands of children and families fighting the disease. María is a breath of hope and I hope that with the fundraising we can find a new avenue in research.

After today what is going to happen?

GC: So many people have joined that I announce that we have more than two thousand proposals. Today the important thing is the run and focusing on giving it our all. Then we will continue because now more than ever is when we have to continue the fight, and I assure you that we will give many surprises.