Raising More Voices in Sport Through Activism and Mentorship
The voices of young women are the center of VIS and Stef Strack is building the platform to support the future history makers in women’s sport.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
“If I know there’s a need out there, I just go and do it,” says Stef Strack. “It’s how I operate.”
Indeed. Within the past two weeks, the 41-year-old sports apparel executive connected with Senator Amy Klobuchar to ask for her support for the Fair Play for Women Act; shot a short-form documentary with Olympian Allyson Felix on the culture of running; and otherwise kept the wheels spinning on Voice in Sport, a young company Strack launched during the pandemic to fill the needs of young female athletes.
Voice in Sport (VIS), and its nonprofit sister, Voice in Sport Foundation, features a multi-pronged mission to keep girls ages 13-23 playing sport, elevate all female voices in the industry of sports, and bring increased visibility and advocacy to level the playing field. The focus on middle school, high school, and college girls isn’t an accident.
“The sports industry treats this group as an initiative, not a focus,” says the former Nike executive, adding that historically it hasn’t received the love and attention it needs—a fact she knows from both her personal and professional experience.
From Alaska to D.C.
A skier and soccer player growing up in Anchorage, Strack won a Junior Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing, and, in perhaps a more important victory, spoke before a school board meeting as a middle schooler to protest their decision to drop middle school sports.
“I learned early about the power of using your voice to drive change,” she says.
Moving to the lower 48 to play NCAA Division 1 soccer at University of Montana, Strack finally hit a wall she couldn’t climb.
“I struggled with injuries. I wasn’t prepared for college. I gained weight,” she says, “I had body image issues, and ended up leaving the team.”
A common story for female athletes in their late teens and early 20s, but Strack made it (much) farther than most. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Similarly, according to the National Federation of State High School Association, 1.13 million more boys play high school sports compared to girls.
Anybody who has been frustrated by not seeing key moves by the lead women in a major marathon because the camera is on the men is aware of the significant gap between men’s and women’s sports. Coverage is just one area of disparity; despite Title IX celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, all aspects of women’s sports, including financing, support, and visibility, seem to be roughly at mile 11 of the equality-with-men marathon. If Voice in Sport has its way, the movement will soon be picking up the pace.
Listen First, Then Deliver
During her 14-year career at Nike, where Strack was typically one of the few women in a room full of men, she developed key mentorships that boosted her skills and self-confidence. Strack accepted an offer as CEO at Rag + Bone in 2019, the same year the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup. The team was invited to the White House, and Golden Boot winner Megan Rapinoe declined to go. Rapinoe’s action prompted Strack to rethink her own journey. “I thought, this is a powerful time for women’s sports,” says Strack, “What am I doing in a fashion company?”
Acknowledging her knowledge of apparel and footwear ran much deeper than the issues facing young athletes today, Strack spent six months on a listening tour, hearing athletes talk about the gaps they felt in support and knowledge. That ultimately became the foundation of Streck’s new entrepreneurial vision for Voice in Sport. Key themes—mind, body, nutrition, and advocacy—emerged quickly, and are now the pillars for Voice in Sport’s uplifting content.
Along the way, roles for the platform solidified: mentors (pro and college athletes who go through in-house training); experts (vetted sports psychologists, nutritionists, sports medicine doctors); and, of course, athletes, who can also receive training in Title IX issues and become advocates.
Olympians Colleen Quigley and Elise Cranny were some of the first mentors to sign on, each speaking candidly about their struggles with mental health and RED-S, respectively. Since then, the team mentor program has grown to over 200 international athletes, including track legend Felix who spent much of her storied career running for Nike, despite the company not having an athlete-forward pregnancy policy.
“Allyson was on the outside of a major sports company fighting for change as an athlete,” Strack says, “And I was on the inside of that same company, passionate about supporting women. We both started our companies—Allyson started Saysh—with the intent of driving change and taking action. We both know there can be a different way forward.”
Voice in Sport
A VIS board member, Felix fosters an inclusive, supportive perspective that complements the company, but she’s not just talking concepts with other adults. Like the other mentors and experts, Felix is authentically integrated into the platform, holding live sessions to connect with young athletes; her March topic is advocating for yourself in sport. Members can also tune in to chat with Olympic medalist and USC track legend Kendall Ellis about the recruiting process, give TLC to their body with Canadian Olympian sprinter Maddy Price on mobility Mondays, ask Olympian Shae Anderson questions about finding balance, or learn about the importance of carbs from nutritionist Karla Ilicic. (VIS offers one free session a month; one-on-one and other sessions with mentors or experts can be added for a fee.)
True to its name, Voice in Sport is continually looking to amplify its voice. VIS Studio will release the documentary with Felix this summer, and, with enough support, the Fair Play for Women Act will be formally introduced as a bill in June. In the meantime, Strack is heading to Miami in early March for a 5K to celebrate Women’s History Month and host a VIS panel. She realizes, though, that she’s simply the messenger.
“The voices of young women are the center of VIS,” she says. “We’re building the tools for my daughter, for Allyson’s daughter, Camryn, for all the daughters.”
Take Action: Follow Voice In Sport on Instagram