Jessica Grela, 20, who grew up in Burr Ridge, is raising money for cancer research by participating in Pelotonia, an annual weekend bicycling tour in August with routes from 25 to 180 miles in Columbus, Ohio. Sponsors pay for all the operating expenses, so all the money collected by cyclists directly funds research at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University, where Grela is studying industrial engineering.
Q: You feel a personal connection to the purpose of Pelotonia, correct?
A: Tony Banda and I went through Pleasantdale (Elementary and Middle) School together. Tony and I have kept in touch. We graduated with 62 kids in our class, so we were all pretty close.
Tony went to the University of Missouri. He wasn’t feeling too well. Then in the fall, things got pretty bad. (In January, he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. Then in February, he learned he has cancer of the thymus, which is in the middle of the chest.) He had chemotherapy and is starting radiation. He plans to go to the University of Illinois this fall to study civil engineering.
Q: So you feel you are helping him, by participating in the cycling fundraiser?
A: A hundred percent of the funds go to research. I think that’s unbelievably awesome. And the cool thing is I reached out to the teachers at Pleasantdale and told them our story. The elementary school principal, the secretary, the nurse (and others) all wanted to help. The best moment for me was seeing the encouragement from people who know Tony and me. That was a real big boost.
And my mother is a breast cancer survivor. She has been in remission for more than five years. She was at the finish line when I finished (the Pelotonia) last year.
Q: How does the fundraising work?
A: You sign up to ride different distances. Last year, I signed up to ride 50 miles, and I did that in 2 hours and 45 minutes. You have to get a certain amount of donations, depending on the length of the ride. Last year, I doubled my goal and ended up raising $1,200. So there are a lot of people supporting me in my endeavors.
This year, I signed up to ride 100 miles and I have to raise $850.
Q: How do you reach out to people for donations?
A: Mostly by word of mouth. I was able to reach a bunch of people who are close to me. I am not big into social media, so I would talk on the phone and send emails.
Q: How did you get interested in cycling?
A: I’ve always been active. I danced a lot in high school and played softball. With the dancing, there was a lot of wear and tear on my body, so I was looking for something else.
I love cycling and being out on the trails.