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Laguilles runs the Ignatian Way

Photo taken with permission from Ignatian Run website

Service trips, sightseeing, summer school and preparations for the coming school year normally dominate the summers of Gonzaga faculty.  However, some opt for a more exciting use of the break. Many students know and love modern language teacher Ariel Laguilles, but they simultaneously have no idea of his exploits during this past June in Spain where he ran The Camino Ignaciano.

Ariel Laguilles stops for a quick photo during his run in Spain last summer. Photo Submitted by Ariel Laguilles

The Camino Ignaciano, or “Ignatian Way,” is the 640-kilometer trek that St. Ignatius of Loyola took from his home in Spain’s Basque Country to Manresa where he completed the spiritual exercises.  Today, many pilgrims take on this journey to connect with themselves and God.

Laguilles’s first encounter with the Camino Ignaciano was completely by chance.  While on a Gonzaga-sponsored trip to Argentina, he began to casually speak with the event organizer who informed him of this unique experience.  After hearing about Laguilles’ Jesuit education in both high school and college, as well as a long sustained passion for running, they saw it as a perfect combination.  The Spanish teacher remembers it as a perfect way for “all parts of [his] life to come together.”

After reading more about this pilgrimage and consulting friends and family, Laguilles decided to take on the challenge.  While the incredibly long run was intimidating at first, colleague Stephen Szolosi, director of campus ministry, noted that paths like this are “very well-established” and have “a robust infrastructure of hostels and support to pilgrims,” making the logistics of the trip very manageable.  Through advisors like Szolosi, sponsors and months of planning, Laguilles was able to map out an ambitious, yet realistic course.

Organizing, however, was only one part of the puzzle.  He began training at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.  

“One of the goals was to just ramp up the mileage every week.  Little by little,” Laguilles said.

During the spring break of that same year, Laguilles actually took a trip up to Spain to “get eyes on route” and ran the first 100 km.  Over three days, he became more familiar with the “terrain and towns” of the land and reassured himself of his physical fitness.  

“It was a big confidence boost,” he said.

Upon embarking on this great journey, Laguilles was able to see some of the opportunities for the fellowship, prayer and reflection that Szolosi and others mentioned about these pilgrimages.  Running had evolved into both a mental and physical exercise for him over the years, and this experience added a spiritual aspect.

In a location renowned for its beauty, Laguilles saw many beautiful sites and locations.  To look back at the distance traveled was “inspiring” after traveling through a mountain pass 3,000 feet up.  Additionally, architectural feats at cathedrals like that of Zaragoza made for stunning impact both visually and emotionally.

However, not all of the experience was blue skies and easy roads. About halfway through, Laguilles suffered an ankle injury.  

“It was extremely painful,” Laguilles said, to the point “where I didn’t think I’d be able to continue.” 

Luckily, he had a good group of family, friends and sponsors to help him out.

Photo Submitted by Ariel Laguilles

“I doubted myself, but other people didn’t,” Laguilles said. 

Once he arrived at his stop for that night, he accepted that the end of his trek was going to hurt, but he needed to push through the pain.  Invigorated by the moral support of his team, Laguilles rose to the challenge and conquered the seemingly unconquerable.

After eight days of running, Laguilles’  wife met him at the finish line, 640 km. After the intense run, they spent several much needed days in Barcelona where they “slept in, ate a lot” and did a lot of “relaxing and not running.”

In hindsight, Laguilles’s “crowning achievement” taught him more than he ever would have imagined.  

“In life, you want to go through things alone, but you have to rely on others.  Reaching out is important,” Laguilles said.

Today, Laguilles teaches a class about the Camino Santiago, another pilgrimage, with Szolosi and Brendan Hartnett, religion teacher.  Szolosi says students enrolled in the course will find “insights into themselves, prayer, pilgrimage, and community.”  

The class meets in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will walk part of the Camino Santiago in the spring.  

“[Experiences like this] bring the spirituality of pilgrimage into our vision of who we are and how God would accompany us,” Szolosi said.


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