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Woman prepares for sponsored charity walk

Media release
May 12 2006

Chch woman prepares for sponsored charity walk along ancient Spanish route

A Christchurch woman is embarking on an 800km sponsored walk along one of Europe’s most historic pilgrimages to raise awareness of epilepsy.

Rochelle Bailey, an epileptic for most of her life, was inspired to tackle the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain after reading a book by actress Shirley MacLaine. The book covered MacLaine’s experiences as she walked the Camino, which takes participants along a route that dates back to the 9th century.

Ms Bailey said she wanted to attempt the Camino to rise above the seizures that have occurred for most of her life and meet a challenge that will push her to her limits.

“Like many epilepsy sufferers, I often feel unsafe and can’t face some of the simple aspects of life as others do. By completing this challenge I will prove to myself that I can achieve and will take pride in providing an example to others in a similar situation.”

She will be accompanied by a friend as she walks 20km a day for four to six weeks. The pilgrimage draws all types of people from all over the world, some of whom are hoping for a miraculous recovery from serious illnesses.

Ms Bailey has approached businesses in New Zealand for sponsorship and said she has had an excellent response. The funds raised will be split between the Epilepsy Foundation of New Zealand and its Australian equivalent.

She is heading to Australia on Sunday to find more sponsors for the walk, which will commence in Roncevelles, near the Spanish border with France, on June 12.

My first Grand Mal seizure was when I was seven years old. It occurred while watching television and for many years after that, I continued to have seizures if I got too close to the television screen. At the age of 16, I had my first Grand Mal seizure that was not visually induced, in the shower. From then on, I regularly had seizures and they got worse as time went on. I tried natural therapies such as acupuncture, Chinese massage and a change of diet, as I did not want to take drugs or be on drugs for the rest of my life.

When I was 18 years old, I met a girl who was my age who was an epileptic and was taking drugs. She told me that she was doing fine and that I should look into it. I thought that I would give it a go.

My decision was based on the fact that I was too scared to catch a bus, go into town, socialise; actually, I was too scared to do anything on my own. I was embarrassed and afraid that I would hurt myself.

For ten years, I was on Epilim. I had no seizures in that time. In 2000, my GP asked if I was considering having children. She told me that if I was going to get pregnant, I needed to take another drug to prevent the child from being affected/damaged by the Epilim. I was shocked at this and wondered what the drug was doing to my body if a child would be hurt by it. So I made a decision. I would take myself off it and see what happened. It had been 10 years, so I had no idea if I still had epilepsy. At this time I was meditating, practising yoga and on a healthy vegetarian diet, so felt like I was in a good state of health to try being drug-free.


I travelled to India independently and continued to slowly reduce the drugs. I had only one seizure in the 12 months I was away. However, slowly but surely my epilepsy has been getting more difficult to control since then, and I have had approximately 15 seizures in the last four years. I believe the seizures are a culmination of multiple factors with stress a major contributer.

So I asked myself what I thought would help my situation. My answer was to push my boundaries and challenge myself with an act of bravery, physical strength and commitment. That is how the Camino de Santiago came to mind.

The Camino de Santiago

The history of the route to Santiago dates back to the beginning of the 9th Century, when the sepulcher of Santiago el Mayor (James the Greater), evangelist in Spain, was discovered. The Camino de Santiago is now a pilgrimage across the north of Spain and is approximately 800kms from east to west through the autonomous communities of Aragon, Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla, Leon and Galicia. The walk takes four to six weeks.
There are many places to start, but a common place to begin is Roncevelles, near the border of France, where you can get a form that states you are a pilgrim letting you stay in Refugeos, located in each village along the route. The final point for all pilgrims is the Church of Compostela in Santiago, on the north-west coast of Spain.

The pilgrimage draws all types of people from all over the world. Among these are those who have been seriously ill and others that come in search of a miraculous recovery, spiritual enlightenment and ‘the meaning of life’. Many famous people have walked the Camino such as Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Quinn. There are many other draw cards to this amazing walk across Spain such as the Romanesque art, the castles, churches and the delightful small villages the pilgrims pass through.

The Project

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of epilepsy in Australia and New Zealand and to promote the idea that epilepsy does not have to be a debilitating condition. I will be accompanied by a support person walking with me but no other medical support.

I no longer want to suppress my disability. I would like to inspire others to challenge themselves and to work towards creating a more enjoyable and rewarding life.


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