On Jan. 20, 2022, Michael Schwartz, director of rehabilitation at Darcy Hall of Life Care in West Palm Beach, Florida, set off on an epic journey across Europe… sort of.
Michael participated in a virtual walk of part of the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Way of St. James. The Way is a large network of ancient pilgrimage routes stretching across Europe and coming together in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Since the year 814, the tomb at the end of the trails has traditionally been considered the tomb of the apostle James, and there is a cathedral at the site. For more than 1,208 years, pilgrims and tourists have been making religious or spiritual journeys to the site, primarily across France and Spain.
“I started this as a personal journey, one that I am sharing with my daughter,” Michael shared. “She is currently living and studying in Dublin, Ireland.”
Michael’s daughter’s university connected her with the virtual walk as a fundraiser for Focus Ireland, a nonprofit based in Dublin that provides services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Ireland. It is one of the country’s largest housing and homelessness organizations.
Before COVID, people would hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela while raising money for charities, but with the pandemic, many of those walks have gone virtual. Participants track their miles on their own.
“It is a nice way for us to bond, discuss our progress and encourage each other to be more active and get fresh air during each of our walks,” Michael said.
The virtual walk follows a 71-mile track.
“To participate, you have to be committed to walk the 114 kilometers over five weeks (about two miles per day), the average length of time pilgrims would take to complete the real journey,” Michael added. “You can walk, run, ride or swim, and as you log your distance, you will receive updates about the towns you are virtually approaching, walking notes, recipes for typical foods in the area, recommended books to read on the Camino, films, podcasts and playlists to keep you in the Camino spirit!”
On Feb. 23, Michael “reached” Santiago de Compostela.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment, said Michael. “I used the opportunity to bond with my family, and I learned a little bit about Spain. It made me feel I was part of a greater community.”
When Michael and his daughter completed the walk and made a donation, Focus Ireland sent them a commemorative snood head covering.
The biggest take-away from the experience?
“It reminded me that keeping at something, even though it seems small like a mile here and there, it adds up over time,” Michael concluded.