Going Big and Giving Back: Grete Eliassen

Letting the girls have a say in how it goes.

Athlete: Grete Eliassen
Foundation: Women's Sports Foundation
What: Aims to give women and girls equal access to athletics
Role: President

Grete Eliassen is a world-record-holding freeskiing icon who pioneered the sport with her pure grit and determination to compete with the boys. While she’s a tenacious go-getter on the mountain, anyone who has met Grete knows that she radiates positivity and poise, so it’s no surprise that she’s an A+ advocate for women in sports. When she’s not tearing it up on the slopes, she’s focused on empowering female athletes with her contagious confidence and “just go for it” attitude to get out there and get after it.

Photos courtesy of Christoph Schoech and Brian Nevins.

Eliassen has been tackling this mission through her involvement with the Women's Sports Foundation (WSF) for the past 10 years and continues the push for women’s equality in athletics through her new role as the organization’s 16th president. Founded in 1974 by tennis legend, Billie Jean King, WSF aims to give females equal access to athletics and advance their lives through sports. This message hit home for Eliassen. After being introduced to the organization at the 2007 X Games by good friend and fellow freeskiing icon, the late Sarah Burke, she was blown away and instantly on board.

There was no turning back after her first WSF dinner in New York City. Eliassen was stunned meeting so many sensational pioneers in the women’s sports industry from Indie 500 racers like Janet Guthrie to Olympic swimmers and more. “There’s this Tom Hanks movie called A League of Their Own based on the women who formed The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, and those women were there too! We all actually got to go over to the field to play baseball together, and they were so youthful out there; these women just love playing sports, and that is what made them so happy in life. It was really cool to see that in older women.” I dare you not to smile picturing this multi-generational group of rock star female athletes in the outfield together picking each other’s brains. Amazing, right? These women have been getting after it and breaking down barriers in the sports industry for decades, and they’re not stopping anytime soon. 

“We never had that where we could push each other under the lights, under the pressure to come up with more tricks out there and get better like the guys could.”

Eliassen has a raging fire in her belly to inspire girls through sports and create equal opportunities so that all female athletes can reach their highest potential. You can hear it in her voice when she speaks. Her words ramp up to speeds of a million miles a minute and her passion just pours out. “The girls need to have a say in how it goes. How big the jumps should be, how many events they should have. It’s about equality. At the X Games, for example, this was the first year we had the Big Air event for women and men. I mean I’m 30 now and finally this year we had Big Air for women?” 

Photos courtesy of Women's Sports Foundation

The lack of equal opportunities in prize money and competition concerns Eliassen because these are essential ingredients in order for any athlete to improve. If you don’t have the same number of events, then you don’t have an equal opportunity to get better. Plain and simple. In her own experience freeskiing, Eliassen felt a huge lack of equal competition. “We never had that where we could push each other under the lights, under the pressure to come up with more tricks out there and get better like the guys could.”

Through her role as president of WSF, Eliassen is making it her mission to “show younger generations that if you love it, then just go for it. It will work out for you too.”

Make sure to check out the various initiatives they’re spearheading at WSF and save the date for the 38th Annual Salute to Women in Sports if you find yourself in NYC this October.