Women's History Month Profile: Emily Cross

March 26, 2009

Who is she? She was on the 2008 US Olympic women's foil fencing team, and helped them get the silver medal. Yes, I'm juggling demographics a bit. I wanted to profile a young woman, a Korean woman, and an athlete. Sure, there are other women athletes -- more famous and higher-ranking -- out there. But fencing is just cool. And the US fencing team is resurgent, raising hopes that they might go gold in four years. Maybe Cross will be the one to bring that color home.

Cross is the daughter of a Koream high school placement counselor and a non-ethnic-specified (so, probably white) research professor in cell genetics. She grew up in New York City, apparently a hub of fencing, and started out in the sport at nine because her father fenced in college. It was a father-daughter activity originally. She entered first national tournament at 11, and her first international tournament at 14. As a freshman at Harvard, she won the Junior world championship (for under 20's). Her brother also fenced competitively (also for Harvard.)

She took a year and half off from school in 2007/08 to train for the Olympics ... and also to hang out with her brother, who has leukemia. (Folks, time again to make a pitch for Asians and especially mixed-race Asians to register their bone marrow. Multiracials have a very hard time finding donors.)

So ... she's very young (22), and very mod min. It says here she:

currently attends Harvard University, where she is majoring in Biology
on the Honors track. Among her college honors she was on the Dean's
list (2004-05), was an Academic All-Ivy (2004-05 and 2005-06) and was
named to the CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America third team

Blah, blah, blah. Accomplishment, accomplishment, accomplishment. It also says "Favorite movie is Say Anything and favorite television show Arrested Development." Well, in that case. (Plus, this article says she has a terrible case of Asian Glow. Lotsa trivia about the girl.)

I think last year's Olympics raised a lot of interest -- more than in previous years, in my view -- about the process of becoming an athlete and practicing a sport at the highest level. In the articles I've linked to above, and below, people talk about Cross as having the athlete's je ne sais quoi, a sort of intensity and ... overwhelmingness, that you rarely get a chance to see. Most of us never get near such dominant athletes in action, so watching a young athlete like Emily Cross hit the Olympics for the first time in her career is fascinating. We could develop a relationship with her over the course of two or three (or four!) Olympics, the way we do with gymnasts or track and field competitors. Here's hoping.

If you're interested in the specifics of what it's like to be an athlete: here's an article from Harvard  in 2006 which gives us some insight into the pressures and pitfalls of competing at a national level, while trying to excel at a school like Harvard. And here's an article from last year about the details of the sport. And below is a video of Cross and her teammates ... not fencing, but rather singing Beijing-style karaoke.