Elana Meyers Taylor poses for a photo at the Team USA Media Summit on Sept. 25, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Three-time Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor grew up with a father who played professional football, and from a young age he encouraged her to play sports and not let gender be an obstacle to success.
She still remembers, however, when she figured out that — literally — the playing field wasn’t the same for girls as it was for boys.
She was 9 years old and loved playing neighborhood sports with the boys when one of them introduced her to Ken Griffey Jr. She loved him. She wanted to be just like him.
“It took me a minute to realize, ‘Wait a second, there’s nobody who looks like me in Major League Baseball because there are no women in baseball,’” she said. “Then I wanted to sign up for baseball and they were like, ‘Girls don’t play baseball.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and they said, ‘Girls play softball.’ So I signed up for softball. It did kind of hurt a little to think I would never be playing Major League Baseball just because I was a woman.”
Meyers Taylor, 34, would go on to play softball in college and professionally before transitioning to bobsled and embarking on a career that has seen her win three Olympic medals thus far, but she’s remained a steadfast champion for gender equality in sports.
In her new role as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, for which she began a one-year term in January, Meyers Taylor now has the ability to extend her influence even beyond bobsled, winter sports and the Olympics.
A priority for Meyers Taylor is continuing to make sure the needs of girls in underserved communities are being met.
“I think I can go on and on about the benefit of sports, not only physically but in your ability to learn teamwork and build confidence and grow as a person,” she said. “We’ve seen how women who compete in sports are able to go on to have more successful outcomes as far as going to college and even becoming CEOs of companies, so it’s really something that can change peoples’ lives. We need to continue to find the opportunities for underserved populations to improve their quality of life.”
Another focus, she said, is making sure that women and girls are able to compete in sports in a safe and healthy environment.
One person who knows firsthand the impact of Meyers Taylor’s ability to influence and change lives is Lauren Gibbs. Meyers Taylor recruited Gibbs, a former college volleyball player, into the sport of bobsled, and the two won a silver medal together at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“The more I’ve gotten to know her the more I realize so much of what she does and strives for is for the betterment of sport in general and the betterment of women’s experience in sport, and to bring forth the opportunities and the exposure, and that’s exactly what the Women’s Sports Foundation is about,” Gibbs said. “She’s uniquely qualified to lead the charge.”
One of Gibbs’ favorite parts about being an Olympic athlete, she said, is talking to young girls and women at schools or in the community and telling them about bobsled. Any time you can open a door or teach someone about a sport that he or she may one day pursue themselves — similar to the way Meyers Taylor led her to bobsled — is an opportunity to change someone’s life, Gibbs said.
“As a young girl, there are so many things in this world to tell you you can’t or you’re not good enough, or your body is not this, or it is this,” Gibbs said. “For me, sports not only kept me out of trouble, they made me never even think of doing anything that could possibly get me into trouble. Sports gave me the drive and determination and made me believe I could do anything I put my mind to.”
One of Meyers Taylor’s main responsibilities in the role of president, she said, will be to continue to promote the foundation and the programs it already has in place to provide equal access for women and girls in sports. She will also work to increase and strengthen those programs and continue to work and advocate for women’s rights in athletics.
The WSF elects a new president each year, with other U.S. Olympians such as Angela Ruggiero and Jessica Mendoza having held the title in recent years. That Meyers Taylor brings a unique resume to the position is inarguable. Few people have her background, from being the daughter of an NFL player to being a standout collegiate and professional athlete in one sport to transitioning to an entirely different sport and winning three Olympic medals and four world titles. She’s also played internationally in a third sport drastically different from the first two — rugby sevens.
In addition, Meyers Taylor has held a number of different roles and leadership positions in sports. For six years she was an athlete director on the USA Bobsled & Skeleton Board of Directors, she has her MBA from DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management and she even interned for the International Olympic Committee.
Since first getting involved with the WSF in 2010, she’s not only benefitted from the organization’s travel and training fund grants to help fund her own athletic endeavors but been part of the foundation’s Sports 4 Life and GoGirlGo! programs.
And, of course, she is still actively competing in bobsled.
When the Women’s Sports Foundation approached her to gauge her interest in the presidency, she gave it consideration.
“It didn’t take much,” Meyers Taylor said. “I feel honored to accept the position and to be in a position to be able to do so. I’m still competing so it seems like a busy work schedule, but I feel like as a currently-competing athlete I can help promote the foundation and the sport of bobsled. I feel like the two will work in tandem.”