Professor Completes 500-Mile Pilgrimage in Spain On Foot

In August 1968, 15-year-old Warren Kay and his friend completed a 250-mile run in four days, from Midland Park, New Jersey to Washington, D.C. Now a professor of religious and theological studies at Merrimack, Kay recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of that achievement by trekking more than 500 miles along the northern coast of Spain as part of a pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Kay’s wife, Nancy, an art historian, joined him for this 32-day religious journey. Hiking every day, through rain and shine, they rested and refueled at hostels and eateries open only to those taking part in the pilgrimage. As Kay describes it, the trip was challenging. “In addition to walking 10 to 20 miles per day, we were hiking through a mountainous part of Spain,” he said. “Sometimes we went up and down the equivalent of 70 to 75 floors while carrying backpacks that weighed close to 20 pounds. There was a lot of rain at the beginning of our trip, and that often turned the paths into rivers — or at least long patches of wet, deep mud. But even worse were the days when it wasn’t raining, as we walked along roads and paths that sometimes lasted for miles in a gradual up-hill climb, with the sun beating down on us.”

In the end, it was well worth the effort. “It was a great experience seeing the beauty and variety of the Spanish countryside and sampling the regional cuisine,” Kay said. “And with all the walking we did every day, we each lost about 15 pounds!”

At the same time, the couple found the experience to be life-changing, spiritual, and liberating. “We had to carry all that we needed on our backs, and we discovered that we didn’t really need much,” he said. “We learned to be thankful for the little things that we normally take for granted, like relaxing in a bed after eight hours of walking in the rain.”

In a twist of fate, in a small village along the way, Kay encountered a gentleman exiting a car with a Merrimack College sticker proudly displayed on the back window. Engaging in conversation with the man, Kay learned that the man knows a former student at Merrimack who actually took courses with Kay. “We were all amazed by that coincidence!”

Kay and his wife have become accustomed to making epic treks, even on the Merrimack campus. For the past seven years, they have participated in the “Relay for Life,” which for them involves tag-team running with other professors for 24 hours straight, each completing 30 to 50 miles of running. Kay has also brought running into his academic life – one of his areas of expertise is running and spirituality. He is the author of “Running: The Sacred Art “(2007), and he teaches courses such as Sports and Spirituality and The Spirituality of Running, in which he incorporates actual running into the curriculum.


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