Editor’s note: Bryan Steward, who lives with Becker muscular dystrophy, is hiking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. He recently wrote about his decision to take on such an arduous hike, and he checked in to update us on his progress. Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, two other Camino hikers whose film I’ll Push You will be released in a one-night only screening at select theaters nationwide on November 2 and will benefit MDA, also respond to Bryan below.
I made it to the city of Pamplona, the first major milestone of my walk. It was a difficult 4-day trek getting here from St-Jean-Pied-De-Port and over the Pyrenees Mountains. The step walk over the mountains tested the limits of my strength both physically and mentally as I wondered why I made this decision to walk the Camino. As I foresaw before I began, I would need help on this journey. This help arrived for me less than a mile outside of St Jean as I crossed paths with a mother and daughter from Norway, Kari and Ruth, who are walking the Camino all the way to Santiago just as I am. Also with them was a Spanish woman from Madrid named Monica who was only walking to Pamplona.
One of my fears in walking the Camino was that I would not be able to find people to walk with me due to my incredibly slow pace, but Kari, Ruth and Monica were willing to walk slow with me and after our first night in Orisson, they agreed to continue walking with me. They constantly helped me down steep portions of the trail and waited for me as I struggled to make it up hills they quickly walked up. Some portions of the trail over the Pyrenees would have been near to impossible without assistance, but our newly formed “team” was there for me. On some steep hills, Kari took my pack from me and carried it until I made it to the top.
The kindness of these strangers, who quickly became friends, almost makes me sad when I realize I cannot remember a time when I was ever as kind to someone as they have been to me. This difficulty in accepting help reminds me of Justin’s experience in I’ll Push You where he struggles with accepting the difficulties his friends went through pushing him on the Camino. Many people believe the Camino provides everything you need and every person you meet is meant to cross your path. This almost seems true when I meet people like Kari, Ruth and Monica who provide so much for me when I have so little to offer in return.
Seeing Monica leave in Pamplona was sad, and knowing that eventually Kari and Ruth will part ways with me (since they have a tighter deadline to finish the Camino than I do) is even more sad, but I think that is part of the Camino. People come and go but you have to have faith that someone else will cross your path to provide the help you need later on. I still have a long way to Santiago and everyday is a struggle, but making it over the Pyrenees makes me feel like I have the strength to reach Santiago.
Patrick and Justin respond:
Bryan, you are taking us back to our own ascent up the Pyrenees, wondering if help would be available, feeling the strain on our bodies, and the weight of what we set out to do filling our minds. To hear help arrived for you in Kari, Ruth, and Monica is amazing. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do for others is simply walking with them, spending time with them, letting our paths merge with theirs.
Recognizing the choice these three women made to slow down and walk with you as help is beautiful.
Their decision to slow down, to help you in steep sections, and to wait for you is a definitely a gift. But your willingness to embrace their help is a gift you are giving them and we can’t help but wonder how you are helping them in return.
As pilgrims ebb and flow in your journey, our hope is that your willingness to embrace the help, strength, and love of others will open their eyes to all the opportunities they have to do the same. We all have struggles and challenges and we all need others to slow down and walk with us for a while, lending a hand when needed. Your journey is reminding many of this and you are setting a remarkable example for how the world should live.
Thank you for being a man we can point to, telling our children, “This is someone who is truly living his life.”
Help Bryan raise money for MDA so kids and adults like him can live longer and grow stronger!