Person of the Week
Lisa Selmquist to Ride in Closer to Free for Dad, Joe Esposito
On Sept. 11, Lisa (Esposito) Selmquist will take part in her third Closer to Free ride as she began her own team, Pedaling for Pop Pop, in honor of her dad, Joe Esposito of Branford. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Selmquist)
Though this is the third year that Lisa Selmquist, née Lisa Esposito, has participated in Closer to Free, this year’s event hits closer to home as she will ride in honor of her father, Joe Esposito, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the end of 2020. Her dad, a Branford resident, recently had surgery and the doctors have said that he is now cancer-free, but Lisa has seen the challenges firsthand.
“When we found out my father was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, it was just a kick in the gut. He is a big, strong man who worked so hard his entire life,” says Lisa. “We just found out last week that he’s cancer-free, but there is still a long road of recovery ahead. My mother [Elizabeth] has been there every step of the way, helping in his recovering and communicating with doctors.”
Growing up, Lisa remembers watching her dad work two or three jobs, including working for East Haven Public Works for more than 20 years, to support their family. Lisa now also works for a municipality, working for the Town of Cheshire.
“It’s like I’m following in his footsteps,” says Lisa, noting her grandfather also worked for East Haven Public Works. “He worked for the town he loved. For me, it’s about helping this great community of Cheshire and being able to help the citizens.”
Though Lisa and her family—husband Allan and three kids aged 10 to 15—have lived in Hamden for the last six years, Lisa still considers East Haven her hometown with several family members still living in town. She and her three brothers were raised in East Haven and she has fond memories of Sunday dinners with her family at her grandparents’ house.
Just as her parents did for her and her brothers when they were growing up, Lisa coached her daughter in Foxon Rec League. After taking 20 years off from volunteering with Foxon Rec League, Lisa’s mom recently became a commissioner for the league.
“My parents live in Branford now, but still do great things for the Town of East Haven,” says Lisa, noting they are involved in the East Haven Rotary. “They set their roots in East Haven.”
Lisa’s involvement with Foxon Rec League has also intersected with the Closer to Free ride. In 2019, Lisa rode for Lynette Ely, an eight-year-old she met through Foxon Rec League. Ely, who had a rare form of childhood cancer, had asked Lisa to accompany her for a biopsy. That year Lisa formed Team Lynette.
Lisa first became interested in the Closer to Free ride in 2017 after hearing a co-worker’s excitement about it. She and Kevin Fletcher worked at the Greater New Haven Transit District then and though Lisa was interested, she didn’t join the team. In 2018, though, when Fletcher asked her again, she said “Yes.”
Those participating in the ride can choose from a number of distances for the ride, which starts and ends at the Yale Bowl. Lisa chose the 25-mile route and vividly remembers going by Smilow.
“It was incredible,” says Lisa. “When you’re riding and going by and these patients are out there with doctors, nurses, and families and they’re waving and saying thank you for raising money for such a great cause. It was a life-changing moment. When I finished, I knew I would absolutely do it again.”
In 2019, Lisa rode for Lynette and while the Closer to Free ride was held in a virtual format in 2020, Lisa chose not to participate, knowing that many people were facing financial hardships due to COVID. Though it has not yet been decided if this year’s event will be live or virtual, Lisa formed her own team, Pedaling for Pop Pop, in honor of her dad.
“In our eyes, my dad, our patriarch, is everyone’s Pop Pop,” says Lisa. “My parents are types of people who host gatherings and tell everyone the door is always open. They are very supportive of me and they and my brothers are my biggest cheerleaders. I call my dad when I get a donation and he’s really happy about it.”
This year’s Closer to Free ride is set for Saturday, Sept. 11. Though she is hoping for a live ride and the energy of the gathering at the Yale Bowl, if the race occurs virtually, Lisa already knows her route. She plans to make use of the Farmington Canal and bike from Cascade in Hamden to Southwick, Massachusetts, which she estimates will take her nearly five hours.
“It will be hard, but I’m committed,” says Lisa. “I’m not a cyclist and never in my life did I dream I’d do something like this, but the strength I get from it is knowing that there are people out there battling god-awful cancer and making it through chemo, radiation and hospital stays. That’s the push for me right there and gets me through every ride.”
In 2019 when Lisa had committed to ride for Ely, she had a health scare. Doctors had thought she may have had a stroke and said she shouldn’t ride. Lisa looked at the battle that Ely was facing as well as other patients and rode 40 miles that year. This year, she’s aiming for 65 miles.
Lisa is excited that the weather is breaking so she can start training. In 2019, her husband gave her a road bike for Mother’s Day after she completed her first Closer to Free ride on a mountain bike, which she says “made it tougher than it should’ve been.” Another thing Lisa enjoys about the challenge of the Closer to Free ride is that her children see her giving back to the community and helping those in need.
Even though Lisa’s team is dedicated to her dad, she notes that 100 percent of all of the donations benefit Smilow Cancer Hospital’s patient care and advanced research. Those interested in riding or donating can visit www.rideclosertofree.org.
“Everyone has, in one way or another, been affected by cancer,” says Lisa. “It’s important to get the word out there and make sure you and your loved one get your screenings, get your checks, and go to the doctor if you think something isn’t right. This year it’s for dad. He’s the strongest man I know.”
To donate, visit www.rideclosertofree.org and search for “Lisa Selmquist” or “Pedaling for Pop Pop.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .