Friday, July 15, 2011


I think I have a natural affinity for Spanish folks. My mother’s grandfather, a Spaniard named Manuel Gonzalez, was the first known settler of Fort Myers Florida. I suppose that means I have Spanish blood flowing through my veins. Thus the natural aforementioned affinity.

When I first met Olga Piehler in Cincinnati several years ago, I knew there was more to her than I was seeing. Although I have been in business meetings with Olga many times since I first met her, I never took the time to find out the story behind my Spanish friend and business associate.

Until this past week.

Not surprisingly, I discovered Olga has faced a few mountains in her life. From my vantage point, the greatest folks I’ve ever met are the folks that have been knocked down a few times along the journey and have chosen to keep plodding along.

The truth is, Olga was born with a mountain to climb. She came in the world about 10 weeks early and her family was not even sure she would make it out of the hospital. Exceptionally smart, this little Spanish girl was speaking in sentences while most little girls her age were learning to say “mommy.” But her body had not quite caught up with her conversations. She vividly remembers her self esteem taking a hit at a very young age when one particular grown-up thought she was a midget.

When she was 8 years old, Olga was practicing “handstands” in her dining room and her leg went through the glass door. The doctors were worried she would never walk again. Olga was worried she would get in trouble for breaking the glass door. The door was fixed in quick fashion and after a very long recovery , Olga learned to walk again.

The summer before her senior year in high school, Olga learned about an opportunity to become an exchange student in America. She moved from Spain to Wisconsin for her last year in high school and to live with a family she had never met.

She could not speak a word of English. I would say that would be another mountain.

Olga graduated from the English speaking high school and was offered a full scholarship to an American college. She didn’t take a single test to be admitted. They just met her and wanted her in their college and gave her a free ride. Olga had already met her future husband so the decision to stay in America for college was not that difficult for her, although much more difficult for her family back in Spain. Her freshman year in college, Olga came in third place in a oratory competition. Not bad for a gal who couldn’t speak a word of English a year earlier.

Olga went on to get her Master’s degree in Psychology, graduating with honors - but she wanted more. Her husband Mike supported her decision to move to Australia for a couple of years to pursue her doctorate at one of the best universities in the world in her field.

She quickly found herself in Australia facing another mountain. She was in the middle of her studies on September 11, 2001, the day the world stopped turning. For maybe the first time in her life, Olga was afraid. She was by herself on the other side of the world and like everyone else, had no idea what the future would hold.

So she decided to end her pursuit of her doctorate to come home, which was now Cincinnati. When she returned, this resilient young lady started looking for a job. But finding a job commensurate with her education was difficult. She was hired as a temporary file clerk at the office where her husband worked.

And that is when I met this obviously over qualified file clerk named Olga who had just taken another self esteem hit.

But as you might imagine, Olga quickly moved up at her husband’s work place. She now is a mommy of two and, when not in the office at work or spending time with her hubby and girls, she trains and shares her new technical expertise and skills with other professionals all over the country. These are skills and expertise she knew nothing about when she was hired as a file clerk several years ago.

Olga’s story is an incredible story of courage, tenacity and the human spirit. At 36, Olga’s story is just beginning. But she unknowingly reminded me that no material has ever been invented by man as resilient as the human spirit.

I just knew there was a story behind my Spanish friend the first day I met her. And even if there wasn’t, it would have been okay anyway.

You know I have an affinity for Spanish folks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said... always so well written and enjoyed 'meeting' and getting to know Olga. Thanks, Pat Bartlett