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Heart holds up strong on epic walk

Her knees may be taking a battering but Gay Rowe says her heart is holding up just fine as she approaches the half-way mark on her epic walk across Spain. 

Gay and her husband Alan are currently walking the Camino de Santiago - also known as the Way of St James - an 825km pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north western Spain. 

She is using the journey as an opportunity to raise funds for the Heart Foundation, after experiencing her own heart event while body surfing in 2009. 

Gay and Alan, from Onewhero in the Waikato, have now been on foot for nearly three weeks and are more than a third of their way along the journey. 

“We are averaging 17.6km walking a day. My heart is doing a great job – it’s just my knees that are packing up!” she joked. 

The couple have already had some amazing experiences, drinking in the sights and sounds of the Spanish countryside.

“We’ve seen the most opulent to the most basic churches, and lovely quaint little villages that even during the week look like ghost towns, apart from the odd bar open to serve the peregrinos (pilgrims).”

Every year, thousands of Christian pilgrims and others make their way across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.

Most pilgrims travel by foot and many view the experience as a way of removing themselves from the bustle of modern life. 

Gay, aged 62, says she and Alan have met people of all ages along the way, from many different countries and walks of life. 

“Every person travels at their own pace and every person has a different reason for walking. Yesterday we met an inspiring man from Denmark who is walking with Parkinson’s Disease. He wants to do it before he is confined to a wheelchair! True courage.”

The camino has thrown up many challenges, she says. They pair have often found themselves struggling to sleep while the village church bells ring through the wee small hours. 

“You eventually see the funny side of that but then try to find an albergue (shelter) in the next town away from a church,” Gay says. 

Another challenge has been walking long distances in a different climate to New Zealand’s.

“The weather was initially hot but now the mornings are cold and I wear two merino tops with shirt and fleece. The fleece and one merino top come off as it gets hot, about 10.00am.”

But overall, the journey so far has been an amazing one, Gay says. 

“We have walked through wine and cropping areas. We have eaten wild blackberries and figs. We even drank wine one morning from a tap at a winery. We have eaten all sorts of meals, trying out many of the local specialties of the specific areas we have travelled through.”

Gay suffered a heart event while body surfing at a beautiful Coromandel beach in 2009.

She was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, where the artery lining collapsed in one part and peeled back in another, called Dissection.  She later went into surgery and had four stents inserted into the damaged artery and today, she’s back to her old self. 

She says she is supporting the Heart Foundation “because of all the great information they provide”.  

“I’m hoping to raise $5,000 for the Foundation and research into heart disease and will be calling on all my friends in Franklin and St John colleagues to sponsor my walk.”