We would sit in the car listening to the song Sunny Days by Armin van Buuren and I would take your hand. You then squeezed my hand back and smiled at me. You radiated warmth and love. With your eyes, you said, “I’m here for you, girl.” My aunt took her own life on July 1st, 2019.
Some people say, “That was three years ago, wasn’t it?” Processing grief is complex, and there is no right or wrong. Everyone does it in their own way. This year I decided to actively do something with it. Because I was ready. Letting go of someone you couldn’t prepare for is one of the hardest things. Mourning is a sport. Since July 1st, 2019, I have been doing two top sports simultaneously. It consumed me completely; the scales were not in balance.
Why did I walk 125km in 6 days?
There will come a time when you will have to move on without your mother in your life. This moment came when I was 8 and a second time when I was 29. I had such a sweet aunt who was willing to inadvertently take on that role in my development as a mature woman (8th to 29th). Some people go through losing a parent—when it comes naturally—much later in life. There was no one left with a mother role in my life. This painful fact gives me an official sense of maturity and requires me to stand on my own two feet. That realization and the associated process are not simple.
After the Tokyo Olympics games, I thought a lot about why it was bronze. Which route should I take to be even faster in Paris? I would have given it a few years if I wasn’t a top athlete. But I didn’t have this time, so I couldn’t help but look my fear, pain, and sadness straight in the eye. The mirror of my own pain.
My aunt had left me letters, leaving me with all kinds of unprocessed emotions for a long time after her death. November passed, then December. Then January 2022, no difference came. I mostly felt sad. I was shocked, and I no longer recognized myself. After 3 months, I called in the auxiliary troops. The top sport went into the background for three months. I only trained over three days instead of six. Professional sports were no longer the most crucial thing in my life. I needed to put myself and my mental health first because I hated feeling this way. I recognized that I could not get out of the pit alone. After all, you don’t do anything alone.
A pilgrimage to find and lose something
I talked to a mental coach and planned a solo walk. They call it the Camino in Spain, a pilgrimage. So people often think that only believers walk this route. But during the walk, I met enough ‘non-believers.’ People who wanted to enjoy the peace and the beautiful landscape or just wanted to be on the road. Some walked the Camino for a deceased loved one, like me.
I started in Valencia Do Minho in Portugal and ended 6 days later in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was 125km. 20 km per day, and the last day was 25 km. I did this alone, an exciting but conscious choice. This was my process. Sometimes you are allowed to step out of your safe harbor to develop yourself.
During the walk, I realized that even if you do something solo, you are rarely really alone. During such a walk, you meet different people, each with its own story.
During the walk, I wrote several letters back to my aunt. Even though I knew she wouldn’t read them, I visualized this. I did this mainly to give space to my own emotions. It felt as if I was walking with a heavy backpack. However, that backpack got lighter with every letter I wrote to her. The burden I felt gradually eased.
What have I started?!
During the hike, I faced physical challenges such as blisters on my stump and strenuous uphill treks. I regularly scratched myself behind the ears and asked, “what the hell am I doing?” I discovered that walking is different from sprinting. Yes, I’m in great shape, but I didn’t do this for a while. Because I’m not trained for this. What this type of walk asks of your body is something completely different. Still, I made it because the top sport has prepared me for the mental challenges that physical problems bring. So I made it, but that took a lot out of me.
On the last day, I saw that church in the distance and couldn’t believe my luck. It was still 5 km! My body was screaming stop this. I discovered that I can stand on my own two feet without my mother and – when the time comes – even without my father. My father has already given me everything I need to know. The loss of my aunt will always remain, and that is allowed. You have loved someone very much for a reason. This love will always remain.
Death is something that comes after life. Sometimes unnatural, sometimes natural. Sometimes you get so caught up in life on things you have no influence on, but that happens anyway. The trick is to let the emotions be there and stay in the moment. Because NOW is all we have.
In my case, I walked it out. Step-by-step. That’s one way too. My advice would be; to find your way.
I am enjoying running fast on the athletics track for the first time in a long time. I owe that to the team of people who are now around me.
Why did I want to do this again?
That unrestricted feeling.
The peace in my body and mind.
That I have nothing to lose.
That it will be okay.
I found that.
Do you have any questions or comments?
Put them in the comments.
There’s more to come before the competition season starts. So keep the blog and my socials.
So beautifully written.
I was blessed and fortunate to have met Kimberly on the Camino. I also walked in remembrance of a lost loved one and also to help “find myself”.
Kimberly was (is) so inspiring for me from her lived experiences, passion for life and dedication to her sport. I raise a glass to her winning gold in Paris! Cheers.