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Notorious walker takes me on tour of the Basilica in GR

by Denise Dykstra

My friend Kim Schaafsma and I recently toured the Basilica of Saint Adalbert and Saint Andrew in downtown Grand Rapids.

Kim asked me to tag along.  She knows I am not Catholic and all I know of the Catholic faith comes primarily from her, but she thought I might enjoy seeing these places and she was correct.

The Basilica is an architecturally stunning building that is hard to even find the correct words to describe.  We tried to find out if we could get a tour of the Basilica, but Kim could not reach anyone there on the phone and the website they have is outdated.  When we arrived in the empty parking lot, my sweet friend turned to me and said, “I won’t have us do anything to get arrested, but we are getting in there today.”

I love her.

We followed all the correct rules and were easily able to tour the Basilica.  We never spoke with or saw anyone else there.  When we were leaving, an eccentric 91-year-old woman and her daughter arrived there on the wrong day for a funeral.  But both Kim and I were happy all of our paths crossed at that moment near the front door of the Basilica.

In Saint Andrew Cathedral, we met a very personable, kind man who was part of the security detail and would have been happy to be our personal tour guide if he wasn’t so busy with mass about to start.

With all the time we had in traveling to downtown Grand Rapids from our little farming community, I asked Kim how it was she began walking.

It seems that everyone in our community knows Kim.  They may not even realize they know Kim but when I mention “The little woman who walks really fast,” everyone knows her then.  Kim says it takes one paragraph to tell you how she started walking.  Her dad had massive heart surgery in the 90’s. and her dad’s doctor told her to be healthy to help prevent this from happening to her. So she began walking and making healthier choices.

There is so much more to the story than that.

Kim has been walking for more than 27 years now.  She has various routes she takes every day.  She came up with the routes by taking a township map and plotting out her courses.  She has walked every one of the 91 miles that makes up our township.  During her walks, she takes pictures of the beauty she sees and posts these on Instagram to share with others.  Sometimes it feels like we are all playing an eye spy game to figure out where her photos came from that day.

At this point, it’s impossible to imagine not seeing Kim walk nearly every day.  But at some point, it was her first time walking, and I wanted to know about that.  When she began, her son was still young and she would load up his bike and they would find a place to go where she could walk and he could ride his bike.  She began by walking every other day.

First, she got up to a mile, then two, now she can regularly do a “quick” ten miles.  Kim walks every day the weather permits (and let me tell you, there are days she walks by that I would not have gone outside).  At the time she began walking, Kim was cleaning houses daily and would arrive home exhausted and physically sore.  But she would lace up her shoes and head out for her walk.  Her husband, who cheers her on and knows what route she is on each day, will golf with her any day but not walk with her any day.

I asked Kim why she started taking photos on her walk.  “Well,” she grins slyly, “I am a bit… high energy.”

This is very true.  Kim found that taking photos made her pause and enjoy the surroundings she was in rather than just “powering through.” She began to look for what would make her smile on her walk and if it made her smile, she was sure it could brighten someone else’s day too.

Kim mentions how on her walks she knows which houses she can stop in at if she needed to for any reason.  Kim chats with people as she passes them, always giving them a big smile.

I actually do not recall  when I met Kim.  Did I know her before I moved into town?  I don’t know.  But I do, know I would often chat with her as she walked by.  Because she walked by so often, she knew full well the weekend my son was married, and the weekend my other son left for the Navy, and she would stop by on her walk and give me a big hug.

Kim has seen me in my pajamas, she has seen me dressed up glam, she has seen me when we are laughing so hard and she has held me when I cried.  Not once was it because I called her up, every time it was because she was “just walking by.”

She and her husband are silent superstars in our community.  One may not see them at work, but they are so connected to our community.  Kim has a finger on the heartbeat of this town and she and her husband are quick to jump in and help in many different areas.  They stay incredibly busy volunteering their time quietly with a sweet spirit always about them.  I can’t recall any time I have not seen the two of them breaking into big smiles and I love to hear how their golf outings went.

Because she took one small step, she has made strides in changing not only her life but the lives of so many in our community.

“Just start one step at a time,” was her advice to me, “Enjoy the surroundings you are in and smile.  Do something that makes you really smile. And then start doing that.”

What is something you do that you begin one step at time that makes you smile?

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