The Strongest Woman in the World
This is the story of my hero.
Someone asked me recently, “Why do you do what you do?”
I know what I’m passionate about — I’m passionate about fighting for, “the little guy”. To be able to help those less fortunate or down on their luck. Motivate them, give them a jump-start, point them in the right direction, and just provide any assistance that can put them on an even playing field in this very unbalanced, and oftentimes unfair, world. I’ve done this through years of public service and administrative work, fundraising & development, policy, media & journalism, and volunteerism.
But, when it comes to knowing why I do the work I do? I froze up.
“Oh, well, I, umm, because — well…I want…I’m not a religious person but…”
I had no idea why.
The inquisitor encouraged me to think about it. To really dig deep and discover why I care about these things. Possibly to even dig back to early childhood and think of a few examples or stories that led me to the work I do today.
But, after thinking about it, I think I have a pretty good idea why I care so much about fighting for justice, equality, and fairness.
My mother had dreams and aspirations just like any other person. Unfortunately those dreams came to a halt at an early age as she was forced to give up furthering her education to raise a child (my sister) all by herself. A single mother in her early 20’s who was receiving absolutely no support, my mom needed to find a steady job with good benefits — as my sister was born with a rare genetic disorder Phenylketonuria (PKU) — a disorder that just several years prior to my sister’s birth resulted in an average IQ of less than 50. This is now controlled through strict dietary restrictions and monitoring — something that takes hours of care each day and costs tens-of-thousands of dollars each year to treat (special disgusting formula must be consumed to get adequate nutrition — I still remember trying it as a kid). Due to my mom’s dedication — my sister is still alive (and brilliant). She has also given birth to two amazing and beautiful children — something unheard of for PKU patients just a decade ago.
So, my mother, being the smart person she was, realized that with limited education and a child with special needs, that she would attempt to get a decent-paying, steady job with good benefits — the United States Postal Service was an obvious fit.
She studied hard for the Postal Exam and knocked it out of the park. Then…something strange happened. During her interview she was turned away despite acing the test and having an amazing interview, work ethic, and attitude.
“You’re too small,” the interviewer said. “This is a physical job, and you have to be able to lift heavy parcels and keep up with the guys. Sorry.”
“You’re too small.”
My mom is admittedly tiny. Maybe 5'1 on a good day — 115 pounds soaking wet. But, does being small disqualify you from working in a mail room? She was able to lift more than double the requirements from the job description (she was jacked back in the day — no lie).
Well, my mom wasn’t satisfied with, “You’re too small. Sorry.” After that interview and subsequent rejection, she penned a letter to U.S. Representative Tom Petri, Wisconsin’s 6th congressional district representative, explaining her situation.
“I’m sorry, but is there a size requirement that I am not aware of to work at the United States Postal Service?” my mom asked Petri.
Petri responded, and told her that she had been unjustly discriminated against and advised her to march back into the Post Office with his support in her hand.
She demanded the job that was rightfully hers as the most qualified candidate. She was met with, “Okay, you can scrub the toilets. How about that?” To which she responded, “Okay, deal.”
The hiring manager did not expect her to agree to this ludicrous deal. There technically was a custodian position — but it was only available to military veterans — so she was hired on as the lowest level employee. She eventually worked her way up, and used her tumultuous hiring experience to advocate for others like her as the Union President for 17 years — eventually retiring after 27+ years of service.
I will never know what it takes to persevere to this level — but I am able to write you this story today thanks to the hard work and determination of that woman. Her only goal was to see her children grow up, get an education, and be happy with their careers. My sister is happily married with two beautiful children and works as a teacher in Wisconsin, I am doing what I love — and neither of us take shit from anyone.
Thanks mom. I love you. You are the strongest woman in the world.
Craig Wiroll has been a reality television star, an Asian elephant rehabilitator, a waterfall repairman, a two-time garlic eating champion, and also worked at Pizza Hut and The White House.
He was allowed to attend college where they eventually gave him a Master of Public Administration degree from Oregon and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from UW-Milwaukee. He lives alone with nobody — oftentimes out of the back of his Subaru.