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Fighting chance: Charlestown resident shares his journey from torero to teacher

November 10, 2020

One of the things that makes Charlestown, a continuing care retirement community managed by Erickson Living in Catonsville, Md., unique is the diverse population who calls the community home.

People from all walks of life—nurses, teachers, police officers, accountants, authors, artists, and more—live on campus. But as far as Mario Carrion knows, he is the only matador.

"I love it here at Charlestown. I don't have to cut the grass or shovel snow. The people are charming. You feel at home like you have lived here all your life," he says.

Born and raised in Seville, Spain, Mario became captivated by bullfighting around the age of five, after gazing up at two enormous bull heads mounted on his uncle's wall.

"My uncle Curro and my cousins Manolo, Rafael, and Pepin were well-known matadors of the famous Martin-Vazquez bullfighting family," says Mario. "I grew up on the same street, two or three houses apart. Since I was a youngster, my dream was to become a matador. From them, and especially from Pepin, I learned the techniques of how to fight a bull."

The son of a colonel in the Spanish Civil War, Mario says his father didn't "especially care for the idea," but having fought and survived many battles himself in war, understood the fascination with danger. And so, Mario's father gave him his blessing under the condition he maintained 'B's in all of his courses.

"It was a great incentive for me to do well in school," says Mario. Training his sights At 16, Mario began training as a bullfighter. He made his professional debut as a novillero (an aspiring bullfighter who has not yet attained the rank of matador) in 1952 at a fair in Tangier, Morocco. Two months later, he appeared in the most popular bull ring in the world, Las Ventas in Madrid.

"The principle of bullfighting is very simple. The matador moves the cape from side to side and the bull charges and attacks anything that moves," says Mario. "But the word, 'bullfighting' is very misleading because the matador doesn't actually fight the bull, he makes artistic passes in front of the bull. In [Ernest] Hemingway's book, Death in the Afternoon, he defines bullfighting as a ballet with death where one wrong step of the dancer can be deadly."

One of the names for Spanish for bullfighting, corrida de toros, literally translates in English to 'running of the bulls.' Throughout his career, Mario performed in Spain, France, Portugal, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, and Peru. He killed over 400 bulls and was gored 9 times.

"The worst time was when I was hit in my lung," says Mario, who wasn't fazed by his injuries. "It was normal. It's no different than a football player getting injured during a game."

But there was one bullfight in particular that changed the course of his life forever and it had nothing to do with an injury. It's where his future wife Sally would see him fight for the first time.

"I was in Quito, Ecuador, and Sally and her family were also there because her father worked for the American State Department and Sally was a translator. She spoke Spanish perfectly, better than me," jokes Mario. "I invited her to one of my bullfights and she reluctantly came. She was not a fan of bullfighting, but she understood and accepted that for me, it was my life."

Aware of the toll bullfighting would take on his family, shortly after their first son John was born in Cali, Colombia, Mario surprised Sally with the news that he was retiring. "I thought it would be the best thing because I didn't want her to worry and I thought it would be too hard for her and my son," says Mario.

Whole new world

At the invitation of Sally's parents, Mario and Sally moved their young family to Catonsville where Mario sold insurance and took night classes at Catonsville Community College where he learned to fluently speak English. He later earned his Bachelor's Degree from UMBC.

"While I was at UMBC, someone approached me about teaching Spanish at the high school level, so I spent that summer earning my teaching degree," says Mario. Mario went on to teach Spanish at Catonsville Junior High School and later at Lansdowne Senior High School, where he became the department head while pursuing his master's degree in foreign language administration. He retired in 1980.

Over the years, he and Sally have returned to Seville to visit family. He has kept up with bullfighting over the years and has been featured in many publications, talking about his career. In September 2003, he made a brief appearance in Mexico during a bullfighting convention where he faced a cow and small bull.

In 2018, Mario and Sally sold their home in Ellicott City and moved to Charlestown. Mario recently appeared on Charlestown's in-house TV station, Channel 972 to talk about his career as a matador.

"We enjoy living here," says Mario. "The people are really nice. The services are great. We are glad to be here; we wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Friendly, fascinating neighbors are just one benefit of the retirement lifestyle available at Charlestown. To learn more or schedule your tour, visit or give us a call at 410-504-6870.

About Charlestown: Charlestown, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 110-acre campus in Catonsville, Maryland. The community is located in Baltimore County and is home to more than 2,000 residents who are supported by a team of more than 1,200 employees. Additional information about Charlestown can be found at

Photo: Charlestown resident Mario Carrion has been practicing bullfighting since he was a teenager in Spain. After retiring from the life, he taught Spanish in Baltimore County schools, later becoming the department chair at Lansdowne High School.

Written by Danielle Rexrode