When my friend, Jeanna learned about my new endeavor, her first question was, “Do you have anyone from Peru yet?” She was excited to hear that I did not and immediately said, “My colleague at work is married to a Peruvian, I will connect you two. He is great and he was the first Peruvian to be in the Winter Olympics.” “?????”, I thought to myself. I had not envisioned meeting an Olympian via this project. Not only was I excited to have a Peruvian connection, but an opportunity to meet an Olympian…my curiosity was peaked.
With each interview I conduct, I do not research the person a head of time…if I “Googled” someone, I would get one facet of an individual’s life and perhaps I would focus my questions around that perspective. All people are multifaceted and my goal is to learn from individual’s life journey, not just their notable achievements. I was excited to meet Peru’s first Winter Olympian, Roberto, and learn about his Olympic experience but I also looked forward to learning about the other 35+ years of his life. My son, Cooper, who had been dying to join me on an interview, finally had the day off from school and jumped at the chance to sit in. As soon as the three of us sat down and began the interview, I realized Cooper did not share my global perspective approach. He kept passing me notes–“Ask him about skiing.”, “How old was he when he started skiing?” He wanted to hear about the Olympic experience and skip over everything else. Fortunately, the note passing subsided and he settled in for the duration of the interview. As we walked away from Roberto’s home, Cooper was filled with enthusiasm about meeting Roberto. I asked him why and what he learned. “I learned that from every negative thing there is always a positive. You may have to wait or look between the lines to realize the positive, but when something negative happens, there is a reason and you must try and see the positive.” I could hardly contain my excitement…he really heard Roberto and his take away was something I could tell him over and over but hearing it from Roberto it will stick when my messaging probably slides through the cracks.
(Of course, he was also over the moon having the opportunity to hold an Olympic torch). Had we only talked about Roberto the Olympian, we would have missed out on this great lesson. I am thankful Roberto, a highly intuitive, instinctual, hardworking individual, gifted Cooper & I with his life story…that of the roads less taken.
Born in Lima, Peru, Roberto was the oldest of three boys. His parents were both born and raised in Lima as well. It was there they met at university while pursuing architectural degrees. For Roberto, life in Lima was filled with family, “It is part of the Latin culture. I got to see my extended family every day.” Roberto was very social, played soccer and loved to surf. “I was dreaming about being a surfer. It is very popular in Peru.” (this came as a surprise to me…I had no idea the Peruvian coastline was known for surfing. Roberto was the second surfing enthusiast I had met with this project, Ibrahima from Senegal is a surfing fanatic as well…yes, surfing in Peru & Senegal…I had no idea).
Being the eldest, he felt the unspoken pressure to pursue a “professional” career. Working for his father’s magazine (in the architectural arena), Roberto was immersed in the printing business. He realized he had friends with businesses who could use his printing skills and knowledge. He saw an opportunity, found a friend to partner with and, at the age of 18 he veered off the traditional career path and began a printing company. It was a leap of faith, starting a business in an area outside of his educational studies, but within days, the pair had of establishing the office, they had more work than they could imagine. The two worked endless hours. “It was a two-man show until we could hire more people. We were doing everything: the printing, packaging, marketing, PR, accounting…it was a lot. I worked a lot, very random hours and in my off time I surfed my tail off.” With time the company grew and they were able to hire support staff. “It was a great, comfortable life. I never considered living a different life. Leaving Lima was never on my radar.” He had established a great business, his family was around him. It was the life he had envisioned for himself.
What happened next was unexpected and completely changed the course of Roberto’s life.
I love Roberto’s “love story”. I think it exemplifies how he lives his life:
-be open to new experiences
-roadmaps not required
-just do it
-if you’re in, go all in, give it your best and do not worry about the outcome
Roberto’s mother took over his business responsibilities and both families welcomed and supported the newlyweds into the next phase of their lives. Relocating to Seattle, perfecting his English and settling into life in was Roberto’s main focus. Although he was well educated and had studied English in school, the transition was not an easy one…
I think it is easy to overlook how difficult it is to navigate through daily life speaking a foreign language. Fluency does not happen overnight and can be draining when you are constantly bombarded with the unfamiliar.
A 2010 Winter Olympic bid was not yet on Roberto’s radar…he was still a few years from discovering his love of cross-country skiing. Meeting his wife changed Roberto’s life and she would become the catalyst to Roberto becoming the first Peruvian Winter Olympian.
To read more about Roberto: PART II