The city of Santiago de Compostela, located in the northwest part of Spain, is the ending destination of the Catholic pilgrimage Camino de Santiago walk, which means the way of Saint James.
Originating in the Middle Ages, the 500-mile pilgrimage walk ending in Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of St. James is located, is still done today by some for spiritual reasons. For others, it is a journey for personal reasons or recreation. The walk not only challenges a person physically but mentally as well.
Many routes lead to the holy city, but the most common path traveled is the Camino Frances meaning (the French way). The Camino Frances route starts in St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France.
The Camino Frances is the route that Kathy Regan of Shenandoah had hoped to walk before a serious and rare heart condition changed those plans. Being involved in ministry most of her life, Regan said the thought of doing a pilgrimage walk had always intrigued her.
“I have been blessed to travel to many places in the world doing mission work,” said Regan. “There’s something that has always sparked my interest in the pilgrimage walk.”
Eight years ago, before Regan was diagnosed with a heart condition, she thought crossing the Camino walk off her bucket list could become a reality and she had begun preparing for the pilgrimage walk. Then after her diagnosis, she assumed she would never have that opportunity.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic came a “silver lining.” Because of the pandemic, a virtual Camino de Santiago Challenge was offered. A person can keep track of how many miles they walk, run, cycle or swim, log those miles onto the challenge website, and advance along the Camino de Santiago map.
“I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do the Camino walk due to this serious and rare heart condition,” said Regan. “The pandemic provided this opportunity for me to do something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Regan began her virtual journey on May 31 last year and has now reached 300 miles.
“Often, those experiences that we long for in our lives can be right outside our back door,” said Regan.
Regan’s virtual journey has taken her down the dirt roads and along the Wabash Trace near her home, where she has embraced the beauty of Iowa with a deeper appreciation. As she walks, she captures the sunrises and sunsets, the flowers and all the beauties of nature with photographs. She plans to create a book or video showcasing her Camino walk.
Regan said everyone walks or does a pilgrimage for different reasons. As she began her pilgrimage, the thought of “never walking alone” surfaced within her.
Regan refers to the Camino walk as an “interior walk” where you have the opportunity to examine your own story and your own life. As she walks, she thinks of the people that have walked with her and been present in her life.
“I’ve thought about my years as a teacher, youth minister and mother,” said Regan. “How simply being present in someone’s life carries new meaning. Mentoring has always been something I have felt strongly about, so I thought, well, while I’m walking; why can’t I do something to help someone else.”
With the thought of “never walking alone,” Regan organized a Go Fund Me page linked to her Camino walk to raise money for the M.A.Y. Mentoring Program for students in the Shenandoah Community School District.
Regan has always loved the passion and energy that young people provide. She became actively involved in M.A.Y. Mentoring in 2010 as a Links to LNX E-Mentor. She also served on the Links to LNX E-Mentoring advisory committee.
“I was a theology teacher and campus minister at St. Albert, so I drove back and forth to Council Bluffs every day,” said Regan. “I found just by virtue of teaching and being a campus minister that mentoring was very much a part of my life. So, when I stayed closer to home, it lent itself for me to be involved in the local mentoring program, which was M.A.Y. Mentoring.”
The Links to LNX E-Mentoring program is part of the curriculum for all freshmen students in the Shenandoah Community School District in ninth grade language arts class. This program connects students to individuals in the community that can encourage them to do well in high school and help them explore post-secondary opportunities.
Throughout the pandemic face to face mentoring opportunities have been challenging. Regan said the Links to LNX E-Mentoring program had been an excellent way to communicate with Shenandoah youth.
“Through Kim’s passionate leadership and understanding of the needs, she has empowered others to use technology to really reach into the lives of the students in our community,” said Regan. Kim Leininger is the M.A.Y. Mentoring/Links to LNX2 Program Coordinator.
Regan’s first E-Mentee was Abby Peterson during her freshman year at Shenandoah High School.
“I was just blessed with the best right off the start,” said Regan. “Abby was one of those exceptional students. She was very active, very talented, and very gifted.”
Regan said E-Mentors and Mentees were asked to communicate once a week by email. But she noted Peterson and herself would email several times throughout the week.
“We were able to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect,” said Regan. “Abby came with a strong support system at home, so the things we were able to do through E-Mentoring was just wonderful.”
Peterson said requiring freshmen students to participate in the Links to LNX E-Mentoring program is a great idea. She said it allows all students the opportunity to have a mentor from the community to help guide them in their academic decisions.
She said mentors in the program offer positive advice related to school, help students research what fields they may be interested in, and offer guidance when looking at colleges.
“I know a lot of people that have either been mentors or mentees, and I think it’s an excellent program,” said Peterson.
Peterson graduated in 2018 from Simpson College and now lives in West Des Moines, where she is a substitute teacher. As a teacher, she notices students in her classrooms that could benefit from a mentoring program. She also said as an adult, she now has a better understanding of how unique the mentoring program Shenandoah has is and knows first hand how crucial positive influence is for students.
Peterson described Regan as a ray of sunshine.
“She’s been a person that I know if I ever needed anything or wanted to talk to her about something that she would be there for me after all this time,” said Peterson.
Regan described mentoring as an investment of time and energy into the youth of the community.
“Often I hear people say that young people are the future of our world, and I think that is true, but I also think they are the joy of the present,” said Regan. “I think that it is a shared benefit.”
Regan and Peterson still keep in contact by text message, email and social media. She said with other E-Mentees she has just walked with them on a short part of their journey.
“E-Mentoring is about encouraging growth and widening the perspective of students,” said Regan. “Sometimes it’s to provide direction, but most of the time it’s just to provide a listening ear.”
Along with logging those 300 miles on her virtual Camino de Santiago Challenge, Regan has raised $1,490 on the Go Fund Me page for the M.A.Y. Mentoring program.
“I think that initially when you think about walking 500 miles, it can seem very daunting, and what I have discovered is that you’re able to achieve that by just one step at a time,” she said.
Regan said she tries to walk a mile each day, but some days are a challenge with her heart condition. But she said she never gives up and says it is the same with mentoring, “you should never give up.”
Regan said the virtual Camino de Santiago Challenge is not how she had intended to complete the walk, but she has enjoyed her journey. Having friends and family join her along the way has reminded Regan of the many people who have shared her journey through life.
Reflecting on the Camino walk, Regan said when things look overwhelming or out of reach, there is always a new opportunity and a new possibility to make things happen.
“When you’re confronted with a health situation, you can just say I can’t do this or I can’t do that,” she said. “But I have chosen to look at this as what I can do. I think that people who live with chronic illnesses and chronic diseases sometimes feel alone and are the only ones walking this path. That everyone else’s lives have gone on in a normal fashion and yours has changed tremendously.”
Regan shares a positive message with mentees from her experiences that when things are not turning out quite the way you expected, there are always other options, possibilities, and opportunities to do the things you want to do.
Being aware of what may have changed in someone’s life and knowing that they still need someone to walk with them is very important, Regan said.
“I guess that was why M.A.Y. Mentoring connected so well for me with my Camino walk,” she said. “In this world, no one should have to walk alone. There should be somebody there that you can lean on, rely on and talk to.”
Regan said this has been a reminder that we don’t have to walk alone in this world. She said we all need to look for those opportunities where we can walk with others.
Donations for the M.A.Y. Mentoring program should be made to the “Greater Shenandoah Foundation” with M.A.Y. Mentoring as the notation. Donations can be mailed to 601 Dr. Creighton Circle, Shenandoah, IA 51601.