A Tyrone man who has had a kidney transplant has just returned from a ‘life-changing’ experience walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail in Spain.
When he was a child, Graham McCormick was diagnosed with Alport syndrome, a genetic condition that is characterised by kidney disease, hearing loss and eye abnormalities.
People with the condition experience progressive loss of kidney function; in some cases, this means that a transplant is inevitable.
At around 30 years of age, Graham’s blood results started showing signs that he would also require a transplant.
Then, 11 years ago, the Newtownstewart man successfully received a kidney by taking part in the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme.
His wife, Merissa was able to donate her kidney to another recipient pair, and Graham was able to get a match for himself.
Graham enjoys uphill walking and trekking, and just four short months after his transplant he and his wife scaled the UK’s largest peak, Ben Nevis.
After completing multiple endurance treks and runs, Graham decided to look for a new challenge.
He began to contemplate a 800 km hike across southern France and northern Spain, an ancient pligrimage path known as the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino, also known as the Way of St James, comprises a network of routes leading to the shrine of the apostle of St James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain, where tradition says the remains of the apostle are buried.
The most popular route is the ‘French Way’, with the journey starting in the French town of St Jean Pied-de-Port close to the Spanish border and concluding 800km later at Santiago.
Every year, hundreds of thousands or people from all over world walk this route through the beautiful Spanish countryside, staying in villages and towns along the way where they share food, drinks and friendships with fellow pilgrims.
Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago trail vary. Some are seeking a digital detox, away from the pressures of life; some want the challenge and the accomplishment of taking on one of the world’s ancient, iconic routes; and for some, the lure of Gothic cathedrals, medieval monasteries and gently rolling countryside amidst glorious sunshine is simply too strong to resist.
All agree that arriving beneath the imposing Portico de la Gloria at the entrance to Santiago de Compostela’s UNESCO cathedral is a momentous moment after 5-6 weeks of walking.
Graham spent 33 days completing his Camino, walking on average 20 miles each day, starting in the early morning and finishing in the early afternoon, just in time for lunch.
He said his reason for doing the trek was to “get away from the rat race” and have a break from his everyday life.
“The Camino was certainly a life-changing experience,” he stated.
“People always ask about the physical challenge but I will be honest, the walking was not difficult for me. The part I found hard was being away from family. However, you get to meet so many different people and walk parts of the route with others so you are never lonely. But being away from my family for over a month was certainly hard.”
A pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago can have a profound impact on people’s emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing, and Graham says he has returned a different person.
“The towns and cities the walk goes through are absolutely stunning,” he remarked. “And so is the scenery there as you walk through the countryside.
“There are sections that are quite flat and a little boring. but the early stages and later walks definitely make up for it.
“Since I’ve got back, I sold my car and bought a small one. I just don’t care about driving fast or keeping up with the Jones’s.
“I have also realised you don’t need fancy things to be happy. When I initially thought about doing the Camino, I was only really interested in the physical aspect of the walks.
“But that is not the bit that changed me. It is a very spiritual experience, you have time to think about things like never before, and overall it puts life into perspective.”
Graham said that he would recommend the Camino de Santiago trail to anyone who has thought about doing the ‘once in a lifetime’ walk.
“I would tell anyone who is contemplating the Camino to just do it.
“It does take some time, But I was lucky that my boss was very understanding.
“He had done it before so I’d no problem getting the time off!”
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