I Met A New Hero Today!

I don’t think I’ve ever shared in this blog the type of work I do outside of writing about myself. (And sometimes those cool people I meet…)  I’m in sales and marketing and business development for Marathon Technology Group, the company I co-own  with my husband, Don.  We are an IT services support provider. I meet powerful business owners and stressed out computer users every week.  My job is to try and help make their work life easier, more productive, more profitable.  I often never know how my day will turn out but I can always count on it being…interesting.

Today I got to enjoy a surprise visit with the Kim Osterholt, the woman who is president of  Ajax Tool, Inc. in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Our company has taken care of  hers for several years.  Bill Osterholt, her husband and partner died from cancer last year.  Because we dealt with Bill and Gayla, their office manager, I’d never had the opportunity to meet Kim over the years.  I recall my first meeting with her was shortly after Bill’s death.  She seemed raw, struggling to make sense of everything she was left to manage while she struggled to cope with her grief.  I remember her words were delivered painfully.  She seemed unable to move.  Her eyes were full of sadness and fear.  I remember what I wanted to do most was touch her arm or just wrap my arms around her and tell her I was sorry for her loss.  But she seemed as proud as she was frightened and I didn’t think it was my place to extend an embrace so I just tried to explain what we did, how we might help, and why I was there.   And then I just tried to listen. 

I recall feeling a little hurt.  She didn’t know me or our company any more than I knew her.  She didn’t know my husband would treat her as carefully as he’d treat a family member suffering a loss. I sensed that she saw me and our comapny as a threat of some type.  Though I couldn’t imagine what she was going through, I tried to put myself in her place and try and understand how huge the job of taking over her husband’s business must seem to her.

I remember that day shook me up a bit.  I’ve been my husband’s business partner for 15 years.  As a “planner” I’ve sometimes played out how I’d manage our company if my husband died or was otherwise incapacitated.  I know the people I’d call.  I know how I’d try and rally our guys.  I’ve talked with our accountant about my fears and anxieties.  Spending time with Kim that day brought my greatest fears in front of my mind.  I hurt for her.  And I was frightened for myself.  I went to bed that night wondering how I’d handle things if Don wasn’t with me.

Today the woman I saw only looked like the same woman I’d met that day. Because she’d always been beautifully coiffed and adorned the few times I’d seen her since her husband’s death, I apologized for wearing jeans and a sweater.  I was worried that she’d see me and Amanda as unprofessional and sloppy instead of the two female non-engineer creatives who left their desks on an “in-office casual think day” to jump in and assist as needed.  She just smiled and laughed as she stepped from behind the post she was hidden by and said, “I’m casual, too!”  I walked around to meet her where she was and noticed she was dressed in “work casual” jeans and a cute but old t-shirt, a little bleach stain on the sleeve.  I really liked her top! Looked like something I had in my drawer at home. I listened as she explained that she’d been in the shop since 7AM working on a press run.  Then she turned over her hands and showed me how dirty they were.  

“You run the presses?” I asked in shock looking at her fingers and wondering how she got them clean at night.  Then she explained that she not only ran the presses but ran the forklift and every other machine they have.  She’s thrown herself into the business to learn it from the bottom up.    “I’ll never get a manicure again,” she laughed as we both examined her small, grubby hands with the busted nails.  As a woman who had once been accustomed to getting french tipped overlays every 2 weeks, I could appreciate her humor.  So I extended my hands back and joked, “I gave up on those, too!”   “Funny what we used to think was important, huh?” I asked.

We talked a little about what she’s been through and how adversity and death and cancer can sneak into your world with a life altering force and level you in an instant. Life as she knew it: polished, refined, relaxed, comfortable was now ripped and broken. What I noticed though as we spoke was her hair. It was absolutely gorgeous. Long, smooth, silken blonde with a bounce. She was absolutely beautiful in her jeans and grungy t-shirt and her busted, dirty hands. She could have easily slipped into a black sequined sheath just as she was standing there and be the woman from the polished, refined, relaxed, comfortable life instantly. Her spirit was as refined as before. I found myself just smiling at her as she spoke.

She asked me how I was.  I was humbled.  I thouhght I had things quite a bit easier than she did at the moment, but she cared enough to ask me how I was doing.  We talked.  We shared a bit more.  She asked about the Tamoxifen. We teared up.  I looked to Gayla who was standing with us and had been a witness to my journey up to that point: “My mind is…well. I can’t remember much easily and I have trouble focusing. So I’m coming up with ways to try and help me with that.” We laughed. Wasn’t sure if that was a cancer side effect or just how I was now. “I sort feel like: WTF?”

My visit with Kim and Gayla both was rejuvenating. Our experiences broke down walls that had been built previously from our own fears and anxieties. Cancer had leveled both sides unexpectedly. It was no respector of persons. For the second time I wanted to reach out and hug Kim. But this time not out of compassion but out of pride! I saw this petit but powerful woman standing in front of me fighting to keep her life and her husband’s legacy alive and thriving.  And I was honored to be able to visit with her today.

“You know,” she said, “how we keep standards so high and then all of a sudden those standards go swoop.”  I agreed.  “You go throw this and you realize what’s really important and those things you thought were important.  It all changes.”

Kim had to take a customer’s call and Amanda and I had to get back to the office, so we wrapped up our visit, wished each other luck, and headed on with our day.  Once Amanda and I got back to the car, Amanda giggled and cheered,  “Oh, my gosh!  I’ve met my new hero!”  

Me, too!

Meet Kim Osterholt: President, Ajax Tool, Inc. Transformed by cancer! Survivor!