Helping others experience a religious journey

It is known as the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James.

Founded in the 9th century, the pilgrimage and its multiple routes to the Archcathedral of Santiago de Compostela have attracted more than 200,000 visitors every year for various reasons.

It also caught the attention of Wimberley resident John Martinez.

Inspired by the 2010 film The Way and the 2016 documentary I’ll Push You, Martinez made the decision to make the nearly 11-hour trip around the globe to attend this event.

But just walking the Camino wasn’t enough.

Martinez wanted to help someone cross the Camino who couldn’t make it on their own.

Known as the Accessible Camino, the organization helps people with limited mobility complete the Camino de Santiago by having volunteers assist them on a journey that would otherwise be impossible.

“For the last 100 miles, people with limited mobility can sign up and have others push them,” Martinez said. “This will complete their certification that they have completed the journey. I signed up to be a part of it… It was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Martinez and the other volunteers helped six people – Ann Marie, Kim, Justin, Tom, Mike and Zuben – complete the Camino as they walked down the path known as the Portuguese Coastal Path.

Martinez and the group started in Porto, Portugal and made the 100-kilometer (62.1-mile) journey to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

“There are about 100 different reasons people walk the Camino,” Martinez said. “For them (the group), although they had their own individual reasons, they wanted to be able to say they completed the Camino even though it was physically impossible.”

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It was the motivation of the six participants that Martinez supported not only on his journey but also with the home help.

“They all have their challenges, but they’re so uplifting and inspiring,” Martinez said. “Anytime I have a physical challenge that I need to overcome, I think of them and I’m like, ‘These people have their own challenges and they still had time to make me laugh, cry and make me a better person while I was there.’ “I helped them complete the Camino, but they gave me more,” Martinez said. “They gave me the ability to understand that if you don’t help someone, you don’t live a life. For me, that was one of the most important things I learned… They taught me so much more than just helping them.”

One of the people they helped was a 70-year-old woman named Anna Marie, who kept her motivated throughout the trip.

“Every challenge we faced, we overcame it as a team,” Martinez said. “We pushed her, who’s in her seventies, up that big hill. We can hear them say, ‘C’mon, we’ve got that hill. We can do it.” …Some of these hills just go on and on, so one person can’t do it. Now we have a person with a strap pulling in front. If you are on a rocky road, have someone by your side to keep them from tipping over. So we have a team of people pushing them up the hill.”

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Hearing those words and the challenges the other five members faced in completing the journey helped motivate Martinez as he walked down the French Way of the Camino.

“She kept saying, ‘We don’t have much time left. I can see the top of the hill. Let’s move on,'” Martinez said. “Hearing that was the motivation I later used to do the 500 mile hike… They gave me the strength and motivation to keep going. These people are the epitome of motivation, confidence and strength.”

When the group finished the camino, it was an emotional moment for everyone.

“We had to run about seven miles on the last day,” Martinez said. “Everyone wears their shirts and we push them until suddenly you’re in town. It will soon become a reality that you will actually complete this Camino.”

“The clapping gets louder as you enter this massive space,” Martinez continued. “It gets emotional and you realize why you’re doing this to do this challenge for these people who couldn’t have done it themselves. There were tears of happiness and tears of joy.”

It didn’t hit Martinez until one of the people he was helping was overcome with emotion.

“What completed it for me was Zuben, a 17-year-old boy who spent most of his life in a wheelchair,” Martinez said. “He cried, but they were tears of joy. He wasn’t hurt or anything, just tears of joy. I realized why I did it.”

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But there was one more accomplishment Martinez wanted to achieve.

“The day after I finished this trip, I took a bus to France and walked the 500 miles to complete the French route,” Martinez said. “I told my wife that there was no point in going back to the United States and then doing the 500-mile hike. She knew I had always wanted to do this and she allowed me to follow my dreams.”

From there, Martinez made the trek from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, all the way back to Santiago and experienced the delights of Spain, including taking part in the world-famous Running of the Bulls.

Martinez completed the French Way and then popularized the hike as the Camino Finisterre to see what is known as the ‘end of the world’.

In all, Martinez walked 685.5 miles, which is roughly 1,500,000 steps.

Although people ask why he went to Spain in the first place, Martinez wanted to experience something that couldn’t be done here at Wimberley.

“Some people joke about ‘why go to Spain when you can walk here in Wimberley,'” Martinez said. “Sometimes they’re right, but in the end I’m not walking in the name of St. James, experiencing these medieval towns, experiencing the culture that’s part of my story, the food and meeting people from all over the world.”

Martinez plans to return in 2024 to once again participate in the accessible Camino.

If you are interested in participating in the accessible Camino, visit the website at accessible Camino. com.