A big WSF welcome to the new President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, Grete Eliassen! Grete has been skiing since she could walk and it has served her well. She took to freeskiing and has won the US Open four times, is a six-time Winter X Games medalist and holds the world record for the Women’s Hip Jump.
Grete is also passionate about getting girls active so that they can learn the lifelong benefits of sport, such as leadership, confidence, self-esteem and perseverance. She attended her first Annual Salute with the Foundation and realized that that passion could come to life with the WSF. Not long after attending our gala, Grete accepted the invitation to serve on the Foundation’s Athlete Advisory Panel and, in 2009, was awarded the Yolanda L. Jackson Give Back Award. We sat down with Grete to discuss her exciting new role with the Foundation and how sports have influenced her life.
Women’s Sports Foundation: You have been passed the torch to become the 16th President in the history of the Women’s Sports Foundation. What does it mean to take on this role and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Donna de Varona, Lyn St. James, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Dominique Dawes and others?
Grete Eliassen: Oh my goodness, just you listing off those names makes me so humble. I’m so excited. I think I first heard about the Foundation about ten years ago. I really didn’t know much about women’s equality in sports. I didn’t even know what Title IX was until I actually went to my first Annual Salute with the Foundation in New York City and I learned everything about the initiatives that the Foundation is doing. It’s just honestly been a goal since the first time I was there and at the time Aimee Mullins was the President and Jessica Mendoza was President-Elect. Just seeing the spirit of those women and how much they’ve done before us and everything they’ve been doing in their sports individually. It kind of lit a fire inside and I just realized, ‘oh my goodness,’ this is my home. The Foundation is definitely my home and this is where my passion lies. It’s a dream come true. I’m so excited to work super hard the next two years. It’s so cool to be amongst those women you just named.
WSF: The WSF is active in many areas of sports, health and gender equality whether through our advocacy work, our research, grants or programs. What particular aspect of our work resonates with you most and why?
Grete: I think the biggest thing is I grew up in a family where both my parents are very active and I got to ski when I was two years old and basically try any sport I wanted to try. I believe that sports for young girls really builds self-esteem and confidence. Through sports I learned the foundation for who I am and it’s why I’m so confident and I learned good self-esteem. I would love to be able to showcase just how much sports help every girl in the world to get out there and be more confident. And in addition to what the Foundation does, [athletes] take a big role in advocacy and ensuring opportunity so that all girls can play in sports, whether it be in school or at the professional level. It’s nice to be a part of a team that’s focusing on not just creating more opportunities for young girls but also providing support to professional athletes who need financial aid, mentoring and career advice.
WSF: You began skiing at the age of two, went on to become a six-time Winter X Games medalist and still regularly hit the slopes. What would you say are the top three life lessons you have learned from skiing and being an athlete?
Grete: I’ve skied my whole life. I just turned 30 and I’m still skiing. I do a lot of different sports than just skiing. I love to play tennis, golf, climb, swim and waterski. My number one life lesson learned through sport would be confidence. Number two would be social skills, connecting with lots of friends and family through sport. Three would be how to say yes. How to go for it even though sometimes you want to say no; but, if you say yes to certain things then bigger things can happen. So…confidence, a social network and then also learning how to say yes.
WSF: Why do you believe it is important for girls to have access to sport?
Grete: Like I said in the beginning, it’s so important because number one if you participate in a sport or you’re active outside when you’re younger you acquire amazing self-esteem and it builds confidence and you just become a better, I think, all-around person. It helps you later in life to work with men and also work with other girls and women, and just to be sure of yourself. It really helps you understand that the decisions you make are the right ones because you believe in yourself.
WSF: You have long been involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation as an Athlete Advisory Panel member and received WSF’s Yolanda L. Jackson Give Back Award in 2009. What do you love most about being a part of the WSF community?
Grete: What I love the most about being a part of the WSF community would be definitely the sisterhood — meeting diverse athletes, getting to know a lot of athletes from different sports and also learning about everything that the athletes did before my generation. I’m thirty years old now and there are the sixteen year olds coming in but also all the older women, including Billie Jean King, who serve as wonderful role models. It’s incredible what they were able to do and to learn…that history has been absolutely incredible.
I’m just so excited! I can’t wait to talk about the WSF to everyone and really touch as many girls’ lives as we can. Let’s get them outside!