Our first view of the Mediterranean Sea, where we trekked down steep, uneven stairs.

Last week, we’ve been talking a lot about walking. One idea presented in class was empowerment through walking. I didn’t understand how walking, something I do to get from one place to another, could be empowering. The excursion to Costa Brava, which involved an 8-mile hike along rugged terrain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, allowed me to experience empowered by walking for the first time. To me, empowerment is feeling like the best version of myself in a way that allows me to feel strong, free to take risks, and open to new ideas.

This was the first activity in Spain where I felt at ease. Growing up a mile from the beaches of Lake Michigan, I spent summers hiking trails directly on the beach and jumping in the lake after. I love being outside and the near the water and this hike helped me feel grounded and at home in a new place. Feeling at home right away allowed me to be open to the experience.

Walking or running in nature is the best way for me to think and reflect. As I took in the beautiful seaside views, I realized that it has been so long since I have felt this empowered and free. Back in Chicago, I live the fast paced city life of a graduate student, teaching assistant, and young professional trying to make my way in this world. In the city, I feel like I am constantly multi-tasking and trying to think ahead of what’s next. Before this excursion, I was blinded to how lifestyle can negatively impact my mood because I’m not the best version of myself while I am multitasking and stressed.

My favorite view of the day, which required taking an extra risk and climbing up a steep, sandy hill

This hike has been a blessing; I now realize how much my mood has improved as I focus on the present. During our hike, all I was concentrating on was putting one foot in front of the other, trying not to fall, and enjoying the views. The biggest thing I’ve been struggling with is how to bring this sense of empowerment and presence back to the US? I will return to the same city, and the same responsibilities I left behind, but how do I let go of all of the lingering thoughts and be present like I was in Costa Brava?

As I thought more about my life back home on this hike, I began to think about how I want to apply empowerment through walking to my future profession. I am working towards becoming an exercise physiologist, specifically, cardiac rehabilitation. At UIC, I work in a cardiac rehabilitation clinic and walking is the most common exercise we give patients to complete on their own. I wish I could find a way to help my patients feel as empowered by walking as I did in Costa Brava. To me, the concrete jungle of Chicago is not the environment to feel strong and free. Many patients have physical, financial, and scheduling barriers that limit them to walking in their own neighborhoods, let alone a hike near the lakeshore or the nearest state park, Starved Rock.

We ended the say sailing this boat out to sea, and we were able to take a chance and jump off!

On the way home, I was expecting to be exhausted, sore, and sunburnt; yet I was surprised that I felt in fact the opposite, rejuvenated. I continued my reflection on the bus and realized that it has been such a long time since I’ve taken so many risks like as climbing and jumping on uneven trails or jumping off a sailboat into the unknown waters below (don’t worry, Mom, I’m fine!). I realized I was able to take these risks because I was feeling empowered. This made me realize the importance of creating this environment back home in the cardiac rehab gym because if my patients feel a sense of comfort and empowerment in my care, they too will take risks and improve their health.