Q&A with Emily Gresh
Emily Gresh wears many hats—Trinity alumna, Yale graduate school alumna, dancer, writer, mother, fund-raising professional, and most recently, cancer survivor and the creator of the winning design for Giant Bicycles limited edition bicycle, the Liv/giant ‘Avail Inspire.’ Following an eight year career as a professional ballet dancer at Boston Ballet where she rose to the rank of soloist, Gresh came to Trinity as an IDP student where she earned an undergraduate degree in English and a minor in sociology. From there, she completed a master’s degree in Theater Management at Yale University before entering the workforce in a new field, when she returned to Trinity to serve as the College’s Associate Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Advancement Division. Most recently, Gresh found the brighter side of a diagnosis of breast cancer, at age 39. We sat down with Gresh, to hear more about how she designed the bicycle, its inspirational theme, and her experience as a young survivor of cancer.
EG: There is truly no way to prepare for the news that you have cancer, especially when you feel you are young and healthy and still outside of the reach of that kind of devastating illness. When I was sitting in the doctor’s office at Yale-New Haven Hospital where I was diagnosed and treated, my ears literally closed and I stopped hearing. I did not want to take in that news. It took time to fully absorb it, many days and weeks, and was unbelievably difficult. I had just turned 39. Most women haven’t even had their first mammogram at age 39 and there I was already being diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Fortunately, I went home and went online and within a few days found the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) website which helped me enormously.
EG: When I found the Young Survival Coalition online, I saw photos of young women participating in the Tour de Pink —a three day, two hundred mile bicycle ride that benefits YSC—and it was like looking into the eyes of people like me who had been where I was going. Breast cancer is not common in women under 40 although obviously it can and does happen, as it did with me. I had to do some searching in order to find my similar aged peers facing this disease. The Young Survival Coalition brings women who are diagnosed on the young side, and their friends and family members together, and that was crucial in keeping me from feeling isolated and alone as I came to terms with my diagnosis and treatment. I could see and figure out from the photos of the bicycling going on in the Tour de Pink that both the training beforehand and the rides themselves were avenues to renewed strength on many, many levels.
EG: My bicycling experience was limited to that of commuting around Boston by bicycle during my twenties. I started training for the Tour de Pink by doing loops around a pond near my house on a very heavy bicycle. My rides gradually lengthened from a few miles to rides of 60 miles, and I began riding a real road bike, too. While I was training, there were rides in the rain and also rides in intense summer heat, but it was never a struggle. I enjoyed every second of training and a passion for cycling definitely took hold in me.
EG: When I learned about the contest, I knew it was something I wanted to do. The creative and inspiring nature of the project seemed like the perfect combination for me.
EG: Ironically, I had a doctor’s appointment down in New Haven when I received the call from Giant about winning the contest. As you know, Yale has a beautiful campus like Trinity’s and I just stood there on York Street with all of those beautiful buildings around me thanking Giant over the phone, smiling, and feeling really lucky. Then I started calling and texting my friends and family with the good news—not only had my design been selected, but it had already been made into a prototype, it was a reality. I think everyone should have at least one moment in life where they get to pick-up the phone or text someone with the words, “I won!” or, maybe even better, “We won!”
|Watch a video by Giant Bicycle about Gresh and her bicycle design.|
TC: You have been chosen as the speaker at this year’s Relay for Life at Trinity. As a young cancer survivor, what is the best piece of advice you would give someone facing the same diagnosis?
EG: Inspire, breathe in. Be patient with yourself and others and know your experience as only you can.
EG: My former life as a dancer constantly plays a role in my life today. As far as cancer goes, I knew—and my friends reminded me—that I could not be at war with my dancer’s body. I didn’t think of cancer as a battle. It was a nightmare but not a battle. There was nothing to fight, only things to be endured.
EG: Trinity gave me the ability to look at language and expression from multiple perspectives. When I had to think about how to make a bicycle express something, I drew upon many of the things I thought about while studying creative writing with the late Fred Pfeil and literature with Chloe Wheatley at Trinity—a text can be read in many ways, so can a dancer’s body, or a patient’s. Why not a bicycle?
EG: I like to think that cancer did not change me but the truth is that it changed me immeasurably. Every day always mattered to me. But now, every day matters even more. There is only a one percent chance of a recurrence of my breast cancer, but I have known so many people who have had their cancer return. I live every day to its fullest and let myself trust each great moment as it arrives more than I ever did before. It’s exquisite. I am enjoying life very much, I have to say.