Blackhawk Tech instructor walking 500 miles for charity

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Nick Crow
Friday, May 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—Lucy Olson was inspired.

Last year, she watched the film "The Way," which tells the story of a father, played by Martin Sheen, who embarks on a pilgrimage following Spain's Camino de Santiago. Olson decided taking the trip herself might be something she would be interested in.

"I thought, 'I might want to do this'," Olson said. "I told my family I was going to do it this summer."

After deciding last fall that she was certain she wanted to make the trip, Olson, 62, began training. She trained on a treadmill through the winter, has made regular 9.5 mile hikes along the Rock River in Janesville and has been walking just about everywhere in between.

Olson, a nursing assistant instructor at Blackhawk Technical College for the past 14 years, said her training has put her in possibly the best shape of her life.

"The physical therapy instructor at Blackhawk, Sue Griffin, gave me instructions on how to get prepared for it," Olson said. "My boots are all broken in. I'm ready to go."

Olson leaves the United States on Saturday for the 500-mile hike beginning in southern France and then continuing through northern Spain on the world famous Caminos de Frances, part of Spain's Camino de Santiago.

She said the hike will take 35 days including one leg that's 18 miles long. She plans to be be gone for 42 days to see some sights with a friend during her time there. Her pilgrimage will officially begin Tuesday.

"I love to travel," Olson said. "I'm anticipating I'll see people on the same route. Around 100,000 people walk this route over the course of a year."

The path has been used by religious pilgrims since the Middle Ages. It begins at St. Jean Pied du Port, France, and goes to the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain, that is believed by many to be home to the bones of St. James, one of the 12 Apostles.

The hike appeals to people all over the world for both religious and non-religious reasons.

"It's a journey for me," Olson said. "It's spiritual. It's a time for me to step back and look at what's next for me. I'm not doing this for religious reasons. I'm doing it because I think it's a pretty good opportunity."

Friends asked Olson why she doesn't just wait until retirement to make the journey.

"I may not be able to walk then," she responded. "I'm walking now."

Olson will be carrying a 15-pound pack stuffed with necessities for the trip and mementos from her family and friends they asked her to leave on the path. Leaving items is a part of the path's tradition, she said.

"People carry something and leave it there," Olson said. "I'm carrying a blue marble because I'm expecting my first grandson. That's for him."

Olson said it's important for her to make the journey because she believes life experiences have shaped who she is. After finishing high school and attending some college, she was laid off from a career at Parker Pen in Janesville when she was 38. It was then Olson decided to go back to school to complete a nursing degree.

"Boy, that really kind of hits you in the gut," Olson said. "It was then I decided to go back and finish nursing."

As Olson began preparing for her trip, she started to think of that time in her life and connected the dots that this journey might be able to benefit someone like her.

"I got a scholarship when I went back to school," Olson said. "That really was encouragement. People putting money down for me saying that they think I can do it."

It was then she decided her pilgrimage could help a second-year or returning student at Blackhawk continue their education, as well.

"I thought, 'Why don't I try and raise money while I'm doing this for a scholarship?'" Olson said. "I wanted to help someone who is going back to school later in life like I was."

Olson is seeking donations for each mile walked. Funds will go to a Blackhawk scholarship.

Donations of a penny, nickel, dime, quarter or dollar per mile all will make a difference, she said.

Olson hopes the journey, which began as something for her, can have a positive influence on someone else.

"This started as my own journey," Olson said. "But if someone else can gain from it, why not?"

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