Salute to Women in Sport: Champion Skiier Lindsey Vonn on Why Athletes Are Change-Makers

Salute to Women in Sport: Champion Skiier Lindsey Vonn on Why Athletes Are Change-Makers
The Women’s Sports Foundation 40th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards in October 2019. (Women’s Sports Foundation)

Athletes have long been leaders in the fight for social change—and this year has certainly been no exception. From WNBA players’ ongoing protests of police brutality and racial injustice, to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s fight for equal pay—athletes are speaking out, advocating for justice and championing social change.

This year, at their Annual Salute to Women in Sport on Wednesday, Oct. 14, the Women’s Sports Foundation (established by tennis legend Billie Jean King in 1974 with the goal of advancing the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity) will honor some of these change-makers.

The event will be live-streamed on Yahoo! Sports, and feature the theme Speak With Sport, “in recognition of the courageous athletes who have used their platforms and raised their voices to advocate for a more equitable world.”

The virtual event will be hosted by boxing legend Laila Ali, and will feature appearances by King, figure skater Michelle Kwan, soccer player Carli Lloyd and skier Lindsey Vonn.

Ahead of WSF’s Salute to Women in Sport, Ms. community engagement editor Maddy Pontz spoke with Vonn—alpine ski racing champion, former member of the U.S. Ski Team and four-time World Cup champion—about her work to support WSF’s mission. 

Salute to Women in Sport: Champion Skiier Lindsey Vonn on Why Athletes Are Change-Makers
Four-time alpine ski racing World Cup champion, Lindsey Vonn. (Photo Credit: Reusch)

Maddy Pontz: The Women’s Sports Foundation’s mission is to increase girls and women’s access to sport. Why do you think it’s important for girls to have the opportunity to play sports?

Lindsey Vonn: It’s important to afford all girls equal opportunity in everything, but, as an athlete, I feel that there are some male-dominated sports that put female athletes in their shadow. I get frustrated when I see this, and have experienced it myself, so I am doing everything in my power to push the need [for equal opportunity and access to sports] forward. It’s important we act as role models for the generation coming after us, to allow them more opportunities and a secure place in the spotlight. 

MP: You began skiing when you were very young. Thinking back to those early days, what did the opportunity to be involved in skiing mean to you? And how do you think it shaped the person you would become?

LV: I tried a lot of sports growing up, but skiing was my father’s passion and I think the bond we shared through skiing really solidified my love for the sport. Skiing became my escape and one true focus. I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without having been a part of skiing. 

There are so many children who don’t have the opportunities I had as a child. The Annual Salute to Women in Sports raises money for WSF initiatives that strengthen and expand access and opportunities for all girls and women in sports—initiatives such as Sports4Life, GoGirlGo!, the Travel & Training Fund, and the WSF Athlete Ambassador program—just to name a few. They’re all about helping more girls and women get into—and stay in—the game.   

Salute to Women in Sport: Champion Skiier Lindsey Vonn on Why Athletes Are Change-Makers
(Photo courtesy of Women’s Sports Foundation)

MP: Is there an athlete whose work for equality inspires you? 

LV: Billie Jean King, 100%. She inspires me for so many reasons, but her fight for equality reaches beyond tennis and beyond sports. Women would be in a far worse place if not for her. She started Women’s Sports Foundation to do just that, and I am in awe of this work and so glad to be part of this event.

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MP: Why is right now such a critical time for athletes to use their voices and platforms to advocate for social change? 

LV: It’s an important time for everyone to speak up and use their voices for social change. That’s why this year’s Women’s Sports Foundation Salute’s theme is Speak With Sport. There is a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s a critical turning point. I am honored to be part of a group that challenges us to do more and honors all of the athletes—men and women—who are using their voices to push for equality and justice.

Tune in to the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sport on Wednesday, October 14 at 8 pm ET on Yahoo! Sports.

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Maddy Pontz is a passionate feminist and storyteller. She’s currently a freelance writer and frequent Ms. contributor, and was previously the community engagement editor at Ms. You can find her on Twitter @MaddyPontz.