top of page
  • Writer's pictureGrete Eliassen

VP Kamala Harris + Women's Sports Foundation Celebrate Women in Sports

Updated: 21 hours ago

I was honored to be invited to the Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris’ Residence in Washington, DC on March 26, 2024 to celebrate women in sports in partnership with the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF). The gathering of 115 of the most powerful women in sports at the VP’s Residence was the first of its kind.



Let me try to explain what it was like to be on the guest list as one of the 115 most powerful women in sports.


 

Why the Women’s Sports Foundation?


In 2007 I was invited to my first Annual Salute to Women in Sports Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in downtown Manhattan, New York City. I had just won the Women's Ski Halfpipe X Games Gold for the second year in a row and my friend and fellow competitor Sarah Burke thought I would really benefit from getting involved with the WSF. She knew how outgoing I was, how important equality was for me in all sports and specifically in our own sport we were pioneering of freeskiing.


At this time, we had just finished our second debut of medal-earning competition in the halfpipe at X Games, Aspen. However, we still had not been given the opportunity to compete in all freeskiing events at X Games like our male counterparts could compete in halfpipe, slopestyle, big air and an overall award like winning a brand new Jeep. Even though at this time, Sarah and I both agreed we were much more advanced with our tricks in slopestyle, we were going to launch ourselves out of the halfpipe and hope it would lead to a slopestyle and all the other male only categorized events in the future.



Women's Ski Halfpipe Demo at X Games, Aspen (2004) Virginie Favre, Marie Martinod, Sarah Burke, Grete Eliassen

Even though we were given a legitimate competition at X Games and medals to win, ESPN did not televise our event or give us similar coverage compared to the men’s freeskiing categories. I remember getting texts from family and friends after I had won Ski Halfpipe X Games Gold, “Grete! We just saw your name on the bottom of the screen while watching ESPN. Congrats on being at the X Games! Where can we watch you?” They didn’t even know I had won, let alone see my winning runs. If ESPN is reading this, could you please send me the tapes from the competitions please? I'll post it here for them : )



2006 Women's Ski Halfpipe X Games Podium 1. Grete Eliassen 2. Sarah Burke 3. Marie Martinod

Furthermore, this is where I started developing my advocating skills. I was not necessarily born outspoken, I just couldn’t stop talking about how unfair things were. I could see discrepancies in every competition, media opportunity and sponsorship deal that I dealt with. So when Sarah told me about the WSF and the resources they had, I was all in. Because at this time I was trying to figure out ways to get women’s freeskiing events televised on ESPN and I knew if I traveled to New York, I would learn something or meet somebody that could help.


115 of the Most Powerful Women in Sports


The Women’s Sports Foundation was founded by Billie Jean King in 1974 after she and other pioneering female athletes helped lobby Title IX into law in 1972. She started the Foundation with $5,000 and an idea to help bring female athletes together. She knew we were better together and could achieve more by combining resources and relationships. Billie would later mentor the US Women’s Soccer Team, US Women’s National Hockey Team and myself, a competitor at the X Games, a young pioneer of women in freeskiing on how to be taken seriously and paid equally.




“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX.


I started to connect with many other female athletes from various sports and backgrounds. Two of the first athletes I remember seeing were Aimee Mullins the current President at the time of the WSF and President-Elect Jessica Mendoza. I walked into a room where Aimee was giving a few remarks and I was absolutely blown away by here stature, tone and warmth. At that moment, I said to myself, I want to be her! I didn’t even know who she was except the President of the WSF.



Women's Sports Foundation's Past-Presidents Jessica Mendoza, Aimee Mullins and Grete Eliassen

As I got more involved with the WSF, meaning I said yes, to anything and everything they asked me to do. Do you want to campaign for Hilary Rodham Clinton in the Texas Primary? Yes. Do you want to auction yourself off as the host of an X Games Experience? Yes. Do you want to lobby for the High School Accountability Act on Capitol Hill? Yes. Do you want to put a WSF sticker on your skis? Yes. Do you want to be the President of the WSF? YES!!!!!


Therefore, when I got the invite to attend an afternoon of tea at the Residence of the Vice President of the United States. I was honored, but also very proud of everyone who has worked or supported the WSF in the last 50 years. To me the WSF is the reason female athletes can get paid to play professional sports, can earn sports scholarships to schools and the ultimate modern day protector of Title IX.


While I was lining up at the gate to enter the VP’s Residence I started seeing familiar faces from WSF but also many other women who I looked up to and admired. Past WSF President Benita Fitzgerald-Mosely, Current WSF President Scout Bassett, Sasha DiGiulian, Ashlyn Harris, Sophia Bush, Eileen Gu, Lisa Leslie, Kim Ng, LaChina Robinson, Cole Brauer, Cheney Ogwumike, Stacey Allaster, Sophie Goldschmidt, Carol Stiff, Ilana Kloss and countless other powerful women in sports but I did not know their names yet.



Women's Sports Foundation's Captains and Past-Presidents: Sasha DiGuilian, Aimee Mullins, Grete Eliassen, Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, Meryl Davis

As we made it through the gate I saw WSF Past-Presidents Aimee Mullins and Jessica Mendoza. The same women that had inspired me to get involved with WSF 17 years ago. And now, all three of us were walking up to the front door of the VP of the United States, together. This is when I went into my flow state. The entire afternoon of tea felt like a lifetime. I was able to speak with VP Kamala Harris, take a photo with her, catch up with the other attendees and make new connections. I still could not believe I was now standing in the VP’s Residence talking about women in sports and what a positive impact letting girls and women play sports has on society.



Sasha DigGuilian, Current WSF President Scout Bassett, Grete Eliassen

Recently, I have started practicing meditation and it felt like we were levitating the entire Residence in the air with all of our women in sports energy. It was an absolute surreal moment for me. WSF CEO Danette Leighton introduced VP Kamala Harris before she gave a few remarks about what a monumental and historic event this was hosting all of us in her VP Residence for the first time by any United States Vice President. That gave me chills. Not only was I here witnessing this incredible, intelligent and charismatic first ever female and person of color to hold the position of Vice President of the United States and talking about the importance of the day but she was talking about how important it was that I was there, that she was so grateful for the work I had been doing for women in sports and all girls, all women around the world.



Billie Jean King & Vice President Kamala Harris Remarks

The VP spoke of the importance of giving girls access and opportunities to play sports. And how sports can really change lives. She spoke on the importance of Title IX and the rights and laws that have been passed to support and protect women. That’s right, we had to create a law to allow us the right to play sports. This was not a given. Think about that.


This is when I started to get chills. I have always been impressed with Billie and the way she can bring us together by her voice and energy. But when VP Kamala Harris introduced Billie Jean King to speak I will never forget this moment. These two women have changed the course of history, simply by speaking their truth, doing the work and showing up for the past 50 years. And I was there to witness it.


How can I elevate the women in my community?


I continue to be empowered by these incredible women I have met through the Women’s Sports Foundation. And I know you will be too after reading my experience of having tea at the Vice President of the United States Residence in Washington, D.C.. How lucky was I that I had a friend like Sarah Burke that introduced me initially? Then, I took the steps to gain experience, I educated myself, I learned, I practiced and I never stopped fighting. And I will never stop speaking up for women in sports. Sports and being active is the foundation to my life.


If you are reading this and asking yourself, how can I get involved? The easiest option is to check out the http://womenssportsfoundation.org Web Site and see if there are any events near you and make a donation to support girls in sports. In addition, continue to elevate the girls and women in your community to stay active and support them in their athletic aspirations.


All Girls.


All Women.


All Sports.


Comments


bottom of page