Pilgrimage promotes scholarship

What began as Lucy Olson’s personal journey is now one that may help a second-year or returning student at Blackhawk Technical College continue his or her educational pilgrimage.

Olson, a Nursing Assistant instructor at Blackhawk for the past 14 years, recently completed  a 500-mile hike through southern France and northern Spain on the world famous Caminos de Frances, part of Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

It is a route that first drew religious pilgrims in the Middle Ages from St. Jean Pied du Port, France, 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.

“This is not a religious journey for me,’’ Olson said prior to her departure. “It is a spiritual one.’’

Upon her return, Olson basked in her accomplishment, one that brings daily reminders. “I’ve been home now for two weeks,’’ she said recently, “and people will say something to me or I’ll see something, and suddenly I’m back walking.

“I’ll always remember that time alone. I spent a lot of the time walking by myself, which left me with a lot of time to think. Everyone should do that.’’

Olson’s walk was more than just a personal adventure. During a spring training hike, she decided to expand the purpose of her journey when she recalled BTC Foundation Director Kelli Cameron speak of the appreciative letters received from BTC students who had earned scholarships.

As a result, Olson sought financial donations for each mile walked with the funds going to a BTC scholarship earmarked for a second-year or returning student of any program.

“I know what it is like to be downsized,’’ she recalled of losing her job at Parker Pen in Janesville before returning to college to complete her nursing studies. “That is very hard. But if someone may be able to get a scholarship, it would help.’’

A penny a mile brings in a $5 donation for the scholarship fund. There are donations of a nickel, dime, quarter and $1 per mile, as well. Donations are still being accepted.

“This started out as my own journey,’’ Olson said, “but as my daughter, Kim, said, ‘How cool is this that someone else can gain from this?’ “ 

Those interested in the scholarship fund may contribute by check to the BTC Foundation with the words “Lucy” or “Walk” in the memo line, or online at https://blackhawk.thankyou4caring.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298 . Choose the “other” designation and type in “Lucy” or “Walk.”

Olson’s interest in becoming a peregrino – the Spanish word for pilgrim – began with her viewing of the film, “The Way,’’ an independent movie produced and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen. It tells the story of a father who makes the pilgrimage for his son, who died in an accident on the first day he started the trek.

She committed to the walk last fall. Sue Griffin, a physical therapy instructor at Blackhawk, provided a training regimen. Her family pitched in, too, buying her a backpack, hiking poles and hiking boots. Her son, Christopher, purchased an IPhone camera attachment for her to use so she wouldn’t have to carry a bulkier camera in a pack she limited to 15 pounds.

She trained on a treadmill during the brutal winter. Once the weather eased, she took regular training hikes along the Rock River and walked just about everywhere else.

As a result of her training, “I’m in so much better shape,’’ said Olson, who is 62. “I feel awesome.’’

She left for Europe on May 17th with her good friend Jane Brakefield. They spent two days sightseeing before Brakefield eventually headed to Paris and back to Janesville. Olson began her pilgrimage on May 20. A few days in, she was full of doubt, not to mention sore, blistered feet.

“As Jane walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was trying to prove,’’ she recalled. “There were times on the walk when I wanted to quit. But it seemed that out of nowhere, someone would walk up – a doctor from Hungary, a woman from Montreal – and I’d be back on my way.’’

She learned to appreciate things as simple as horse or cow manure on the trail. “That would mean the flies wouldn’t be on you,’’ she said with a laugh.

A grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a Diet Coke proved to be high cuisine. “After a day on the trail, you’d kill for it,’’ she said.

She chronicled her journey on her personal site at www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=17040. On Sept. 9, the BTC Foundation will sponsor Tapas & Tales at The Armory, 10 S. High St., Janesville, where Olson will share stories from her walk with the community. The cost is $25 with funds going to her scholarship. Reservations will be accepted starting in mid-August.

 “This was a spiritual journey for me,’’ she said. “But while I did that, I wanted to be able to do something for somebody else.’’