Sandy Springs Woman, 76, Walks Grueling Camino de Santiago

Featured image: Linda Walker and daughter Cassie Templeton in front of Cathedral after walking the Camino.

Sandy Springs is home to a variety of intriguing people of all ages and ethnicities, each with their own special story. Linda Walker’s story, however, stands out.

Although born in New York City, the 76-year-old has lived in Sandy Springs for nearly 40 years. Earlier this year, Walker walked, with her daughter, nearly 150 miles in two weeks on the Camino de Santiago – literally the “Way of St. James”. The Camino is considered the path walked by James the Apostle, and is Europe’s ultimate pilgrimage route, over the Pyrenees Mountains.

Walker’s daughter, Cassie Templeton, 53, heard her mother talk about the Camino years ago, and her priest at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs had walked part of the Camino. “He planted the seed and the seed kept growing,” recalled Walker. “Then I hadn’t talked about it for awhile and my daughter had friends who walked it.”

Linda Walker exults at her finish.

Last Christmas, Cassie surprised her mother with the trip. “She said, ‘Mom, let’s go on a trip!’ I had no idea how to set it up and I never thought my daughter could take such a trip because she has a family and job, but she arranged the whole thing. She’s a great organizer and director.”

After the arrangements were made, however, Walker was nearly sidelined by a cancer diagnosis. She had surgery but didn’t need radiation. “I realized that with all my daughter had done to arrange the trip, I was walking this for her, not me.”

Looking back, Walker remembered another challenging time in her life. She recalled looking out a window and praying to God. “It cemented my belief that there’s a God that helps you go through whatever you have to.”

Walker took that belief and, with her daughter at her side, walked the challenging path over the Pyrenees. Since the Middle Ages, many pilgrims have walked the hundreds of miles across Spain to pay tribute to the believed remains of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. It’s a difficult route, especially for those who have not participated in a multi-day walk. It is physically demanding to walk an average of about 12 miles a day on one of the shorter paths or even if the hikers limit themselves to walking the last 60 miles to Santiago de Compostela.

Because of their time limitations, Walker and her daughter took one day by train. “There are many routes that lead to the actual beginning of the religious pilgrimage,” she explained. When the pair reached the “massive” Cathedral, they walked into a square. “I stood there and looking around, realized I’ve seen this picture.”

Although exercise wasn’t foreign to Walker, she said, “I had no idea of the steepness” of the Camino path. “I didn’t train a lot on hills, but I kept praying about it,” she said, still sounding proud of the moment when she and her daughter received their certificates at the end of the route. “I realized that I was doing this for my daughter so that she’ll have memories for when I’m not here.”

Walker wasn’t exactly a neophyte when it came to challenging herself physically. “I don’t consider myself a great athlete. I just do stuff and it feels right. My children and grandchildren think that what I’m doing is normal.”

Linda and her daughter along the route

In elementary school, she danced ballet a couple of years, but she considered her siblings more of the athletes in the family. For awhile she played racquetball and then took up running. When she was 50, she ran three marathons. This year, she ran her 33rd Peachtree Road Race. “I ‘shuffle’ jogged down the Peachtree to finish my 33rd. As always, I had fun with the volunteers and audience.” She still has all but one of the T-shirts she won.

Walker also took up cycling and was headed out of town for a cycling race not long after she returned from Spain, with, incidentally, two more T-shirts from Santiago. She liked the cross-training that involves. “It opened up a lot for me.”

After walking the Camino, Walker has realized that she can’t seem to stop walking. Every day she can be found in nearby parks. “I keep meeting wonderful people on my walks in the parks.”

That doesn’t mean Walker is totally oblivious to her age. “My body in the morning reminds me of my chronological age.”

Perhaps still high from her lofty challenge, Walker wistfully speaks of completing the part of the Camino she hadn’t walked. “It’s okay to realize that my daughter wanted to do this with me, and then realize that there’s a hunger for more. I might go by myself. Some people – many older than me – do it on their own. If you don’t have a bad disability, it is doable. You can start anywhere. If I can motivate people by doing the things I do,” it is worth it, said Walker. “Yes, you may slow down and there are health issues, but you can work around those.”

Walker’s motto seems to be: “you have to move so that you can keep moving.”