Hiking for Hospice

Hiking for Hospice

I wasn’t sure that I would write another Camino story here, but every Camino walk is different; in fact, every step of every walk is different.

I shall try not to make this one about me as far as is possible, because I want you to know about the truly wonderful people I enjoyed the pain and pleasure with – in equal measure – as we set out from the French town of St Jean Pied De Port to travel the first 116 Km of the French Camino.

On that fateful first day, we hiked 17 miles across the Pyrenees. By some distance, this was the hardest physical challenge I have ever done in my life. But it was worth it, because it was all to do with raising money for the Irish Hospice Foundation.

Thank you to my friends, family and readers of this column (mostly one and the same thing!) who contributed sponsorship.

About 30 of us flew from Dublin to Bilbao, from where we made our way to the French, Spanish border in order to commence our walk early next morning.

Our second night was spent in Roncesvalles and on subsequent nights we put the heads down in Zubiri, Pamplona, Puente La Reine and Estella. I discovered that my friend Clancy Nolan, of the Annebrook House Hotel, was walking a day behind our group and so we boosted each other through regular texts!

Near the summit of the mountain, I came across a tastefully engraved brass plaque set in the grass. It read; ‘In memory of Thomas Maguire, who died 4th September 2018’. You know what happened at that spot… and I did say a prayer for him and his family.

I have never met a greater bunch of people than those who embarked on this Hospice fundraiser. Emma, Louise, Annamai, from The Irish Hospice Foundation, along with our guides Juan, Lucas and Luke are tailor-made for such expeditions. Muchas Gracias!

Most of the pilgrims were doing this for their own personal reasons – apart from raising money for hospice. There was a lot of emotion as well as joy – especially after completing the last section when Louise oversaw the lighting of a candle for a loved one lost to cancer by each participant.

Let me tell you about some of the people on this walk – any one of whom would restore your faith in the goodness of the human heart. There was neither a gender nor a generation gap. We were all pilgrims walking together, sharing stories and helping each other when we could.

There were the beautiful women – none more so than one of the Marys – who is older than me! Strong men, with big soft hearts; and from all this diverse group came entertainers and characters who made us laugh till the tears ran down our faces!

Being a sports fan, I naturally gravitated a bit more towards sports stars – and believe me, we had those in our midst. A half dozen of the lads put on a show doing ‘pushups’ at the start and finish of our daily walks!

There were the O’Gorman brothers from Waterford, who boxed for Ireland, and Patrick Butterly, a Louth football star over about eight years. Patrick and his brothers took a lowly junior club, Stabannon, to winning four senior Louth titles. Last year he played with his son on that same team, in the junior ranks.

I was honoured to walk along with Leitrim’s Aidan Creamer. When I tell you a bit of Aidan’s story, you will surely agree that never has there been a greater example of courage, determination and resilience in the face of unthinkable adversity.

At 20 years of age, Aidan Creamer was one of Leitrim’s brightest footballers. There was no work in Leitrim, so he headed off to New York, where he was sought after on account of his footballing prowess. After a couple of years in New York, once again football was Aiden’s passport in obtaining work in London. He played for London in the 1996 championship, where they came within a couple of points of shocking Mayo.

In 1998, Aiden returned to Ireland and naturally got the call-up to the Leitrim team. Then disaster; he collapsed 20 minutes after a training session, suffering a brain haemorrhage.

When Aiden woke after being on life support, he was without speech and unable to move any part of his body. "I went from being a known county player, to being a ‘nobody’ who could neither talk nor walk," he told me.

The fighting spirit that was in the man fought back. Today, Aidan’s speech is slow but carrying on a conversation is no bother. His right arm is useless and he straps a support to his powerless right foot. He does everything with his left hand – which was not his favoured arm. Aiden obtained a sports related degree and now works with Sports NI.

I struggled to hike across the Pyrenees. Aidan Creamer was there among all those other dedicated and wonderful people who took every step with me. If I ever again suffer a hint of self-pity, reflecting on Aidan’s story will cure all that!

And don’t forget to support the Irish Hospice Foundation! info@hospicefoundation.ie.

Don’t Forget

The roots of happiness grow deepest in the soil of service.