Sue Kenney and the Camino de Santiago: Pilgrim, Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, Workshop Designer & Coach
I am very happy to be able to present to you Sue Kenney, a very fascinating individual, a consummate athlete and master rower, a pilgrim to one of the world’s biggest pilgrimage destinations – Spain’s Camino de Santiago, a best-selling author, sought-after keynote speaker and coach, and more than anything else, a spiritual leader.
For more information on Sue’s background please read my interview preview about Sue Kenney, as well as a report about Sue’s presentation about the Camino which tells her story in more detail. After waiting for almost half a year for this interview, due to Sue’s extremely tight schedule, I am really pleased to finally be able to present to you this fascinating individual: Sue Kenney.
1. Tell us a little bit about your life before the Camino.
I was a single mom with three teenaged daughters. I had a career working for 24 years in the Telecom industry. I had trained as a master’s rower for 5 years prior to walking the Camino. At the age of 45, in September 2001, I went to the World Master’s Rowing Championships with a crew of 8 women and we won a gold medal.
2. How did you get the idea of walking the Camino and what motivated you to do it?
One day I was watching TV and saw a show on walking tours in Spain. I found out about the Camino and went on the internet to do some research. At that time in my life, my philosophy about life was based on the idea that every thought, action intention and emotion should come from a place of love. I knew in order to love others, I had to first love myself but I had lost the ability to love myself. I wanted to walk the Camino one day to spend time alone. One day I went into work to find out I was being downsized and that I was made redundant. After being walked out the side door carrying my personal belongings in a cardboard box, I went home and decided that I should go for a long walk. 5 weeks later I left for the Camino.
3. Tell us about your experience walking the Camino, your daily routine, the challenges and the adventures.
I started in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and the first day of walking, I climbed the Pyrenees Mountains. I walked for 29 days covering 20 to 40 kilometers a day. I experienced every possible kind of weather; snow, sleet, hail, rain, fog, wind, sun and mist. I walked over mountains, streams, fields, through forests, in mud, over rocks and every kind of terrain you could imagine. Each day I would wake up early and be the first one to start walking. Often I walked in the dark, with the light from the stars of the Milky Way leading me the way. One of the biggest challenges was facing my fears.
4. Where did you stay, what did you eat? What did you pack? How much weight did you carry? What other practical issues became important in this enormous endeavour?
I struggled with the weight I was carrying; 25 lbs with all my personal belongings. I only carried a sleeping bag and what I absolutely needed, together with food and water for the day. I stayed in refugio’s or hostels for the pilgrims. They usually had bunk beds. There was very little heat and sometimes no hot water. Not all places had kitchen facilities. I never knew what I would be facing, until I arrived there. It was most important to have a place to sleep.
5. What kind of people did you meet? What kind of places did you see?
I met people from all over the world who taught me many wise things about life. Dino the Greek, taught me that a saint is someone who faces their fear. Andreas the German pilgrim taught me that if you pick up a stone and put your sorrow into it, when you place the stone down, you leave your sorrow behind, Bernie the legendary dog of the Camino, taught me the value of walking home from the Camino.
6. Now that we have discussed some of the practical elements of the Camino, please tell us about some of the inner experiences and insights you gained on the Camino.
Each day I walked the Camino, I repeated my intentions. I wanted to find out my purpose in life and also, to gain an understanding of the possibility of finding self-love. Each day I began my journey intending self-love and at the end of each day I completed the day’s walk intending gratitude. Over many days of repeating the rituals around this focus, I came to a place of clarity.
I learned one is never alone on the Camino. Every time I asked for a sign, one would appear. I learned that through the sorrow of others I could find more love. There was a level of compassion for all sentient beings that I had never experienced before. I learned to trust and to have faith. I learned through the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, I could find my life purpose. I learned not to judge others. By being a simple pilgrim on the road I had to trust others to help me. Through this I also learned to expect nothing, and everything is a gift.
Most of all I learned to value myself, and in turn I could value all others. By believing that I could put my sorrow and the sorrow of others into a stone, I learned that there is hope, that hope itself exists.
7. What was it like coming back to Canada after the Camino?
I struggled with the noise, the speed with which everything was done, the commercialism, the focus on fulfilling the ego and I missed being close to nature. I left Toronto and moved up to my cottage on the lake. I had a strong desire to be creative but didn’t know how to integrate that into my world.