Strong Women. Better World.

Scaling Leadership Mountains with Ilina Arrsova & Eliza Eliasz

April 25, 2021 University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace & Society in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division Season 1 Episode 8
Strong Women. Better World.
Scaling Leadership Mountains with Ilina Arrsova & Eliza Eliasz
Show Notes Transcript

The mountains of Eastern Europe elevate this week’s Strong Women. Better World conversation as adventure sportswomen Ilina Arsova (elite mountain climber, ski instructor, a Freelance Artist and Creator of “This is HerStory”) and Eliza Eliasz (Employer Branding Specialist, FairWind; board sports trainer and facilitator) exchange notes on scaling challenges, inspiring others to become leaders, and more.

Carole (0:05): Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World podcast series, a global storytelling project, created by strong women using the power of sport, education, and social innovation to create a better world. Each week, we travel to another corner of the earth and we exchange ideas while exploring Title IX’s ripple effects around the globe. Hello, hello. I am your host and ref Carole Ponchon from Lyon, France. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the metaphorical ring as two fearless women spar about their trailblazing journeys in sport. Buckle up and get ready to rumble. In today's episode, we travel to Europe to hear from two strong women who share a passion for adrenaline outdoor sports and the importance of opening up opportunities for all through arts and sports. In the right corner from Macedonia is Ilina Arsova. Ilina is an elite mountain climber, ski instructor, a freelance artist and creator of This Is Her Story. She's driven by a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion. And as a recognized Mountaineer, she knows how to climb her way up. 

Ilina (1:26): Hello. Hello, Carole. And, um, thank you for initiating this podcast series. They're absolutely amazing. 

Carole (1:35): Thanks Ilina. That's so kind of you, and it's a privilege to have you here today. And we are joined in the left corner by another powerful high achiever in outdoor sports,  Eliza Eliasz from Poland. Eliza is employer branding specialist with Fair Wind. She has an extensive career as a trainer and facilitator using board sports, in particular kite surf, snowboard and wakeboard. She knows what it takes to fly with the wind while breaking stereotypes and to bring renewable energy to the field. Welcome, Eliza.

Eliza (2:14): Hello, I'm Eliza and I'm so excited to be here with you girls. 

Carole (2:20): Ladies, I cannot wait for you to elevate us and help us understand the cultural and political context of your fight for gender equity in other sports. The floor is yours to get us some fresh air. So, off we go for a round one of this episode. 

Ilina (2:39): Okay, let’s start. Eliza, I'm grateful to spend this short time with you, and learn from your experiences. But before jumping straight into the deep end, I want people to understand a bit about you. So I'm going to start with two fun questions. What is the first answer that comes to your mind when I ask what is your go-to guilty pleasure? 

Eliza (3:05): Okay. So my go-to guilty pleasures are nachos. I really like the snacks and how they crunch under teeth, so this is not good for the health, but this is what I do sometimes. Yeah.

Ilina (3:22): That's good to hear. I love some munchies from time to time, as well. Eliza, I know two action versions of you, snow and water. So my second fun question would be, would you rather be stuck on a broken ski lift or in a broken elevator? 

Eliza (3:43): Yeah, of course on the broken ski lift, at least on the broken ski lift you can see the space, see the nature, and if you are lucky enough and the snow is deep enough, maybe you can jump off this lift.

Ilina (3:59): I was kind of expecting to hear that answer from you, Eliza. Thanks for sharing this and warming our audience up with few insights into who you are. Let's now get into the core of this episode. Eliza, you grew up in Poland and have crafted a career focused on bringing more opportunities to the next generation of youth, and girls in particular. We both know it can be extremely hard and harsh fighting for greater access. Last year, 2020, was quite a challenge for all of us, but also the political landscape in Poland was quite challenging regarding women's rights. So it seems like this world has less and less appreciation towards the basic human rights. We need more role models like you. So what would be your message to all these young people and girls and women out there, or just all people in general, who could use a bit of motivation?

Eliza (5:04): I believe that now the women know that they have a voice and we also need the support from the men, but they are also like waking up. So we have more support from the men as well. But actual situation in Poland is not fun at all. This Wednesday, Polish government has imposed near total ban of abortions, including the termination of pregnancies with fetal defects. So now we have protests. And in October, 2020, we had the largest protest since the fall of  Communism in 1989. So their abortion law was strict anyway in Poland, but until now, conditional defects were a reason behind the most legal abortions in Poland. And now the women are forced to be the heroes. So there is little to no financial prenatal or psychological help for this with difficult and compromised pregnancies, especially this who cannot afford private health care. So I believe that my body is my choice and it's human rights. Human rights should not be a political issue.

Ilina (6:16): I completely agree with you, Eliza it's a fast developing world, super contemporary, super modern world, and we are still discussing about basic human rights. It should be common sense. It should not be at all subject of discussion, but let's move on to something else now. I know your passion for kitesurf and wakeboard and how you have been using it to empower disadvantaged teens for many years now. But both of these sports require significant amount of financial means to, to participate. So I'm curious to hear from you how we could make it more accessible. And in particular, if you had access to a sports engineering team, what would you challenge them to design to make those sports easier or more accessible?

Eliza (7:04): Actually it's really hard because the prices are getting higher and higher. And I think that it's not, it's no matter of their own materials used to produce the sport equipments, but just the branding marketing behind it. So if I could dream for anything that would be, like better and more accessible, I think that every sports company should include in their corporate social responsibility something that will support kids in sports, like locally. And for example, in one city of Poland, not very wealthy city, the government support financially the ski lifts and makes it possible for the local kids to use it for the symbolic charge and with this kind of action, then it, then it's more possible to people to be in the sport. So I believe in local actions and in a corporate social responsibility. If I could challenge them, I would also think about using like something better for environment. Because as we know for all these skis, snowboards, wakeboards, kite surfing, there is a lot of plastic and a lot of not so eco-friendly materials is used. So I would also challenge them in this field. 

Ilina (8:24): That is something I was going to add Eliza, maybe they could involve more recycling, reuse and upcycle in their production. 

Eliza (8:32): This is a great idea. And actually some companies I see that they're trying to, now in head, I have like golfing companies, but they are like trying to take from the market the used one that they used to run products and give them new life. And I believe as you said, the next step is do the same with the hard stuff, yes. Maybe they can recycle and reuse the materials. This, this would be nice to make like an action, like we have action with the electronics, why not to do it same with the sport equipment?

Ilina (9:06): Exactly. Exactly. Okay, last question. Eliza, what do you think is the universal message that outdoor and adventure sports have for those who are practicing? 

Eliza (9:19): So for me, there's sports and outdoor sports bring more, even that the world is beautiful all around us, and we should care more about it and care, not only for us, but also for future generations, so they can experience this beauty. Outdoor sports also bring the calm to the mind and joy to the body. So it is super healthy to be outdoors, and today’s world need this more, more of this, both for mental and physical health. 

Ilina (9:54): Thanks for that. I, I completely agree with that one too. 

Carole (10:01): And that's the end of round one. We're now moving to round two with Eliza interviewing Ilina. 

Eliza (10:09): Okay, Ilina, I cannot wait to ask you some deeper questions, but I also want our audience to discover a bit about your personality. So let me return the favor. Are you ready? 

Ilina (10:21): Okay, go ahead. 

Eliza (10:24): What is one song that always makes you want to dance? 

Ilina (10:27): It could be like, uh, any, any good music, but I can surely say that it's Under Pressure by Queen or…

Eliza (10:35): Under Pressure.

Ilina (10:39): (Laughs) Yeah, and or anything by Madonna or Abba will, will, will do it. I love that feeling, like it's literally like no one else is around you. 

Eliza (10:53): Yes. Queen, Madonna, they're great. Love them too. Okay. Are you ready for a second short question? 

Ilina (11:00): Okay, shoot. 

Eliza (11:02): Okay. What is the last book you read? 

Ilina (11:05): Ah, actually, I wasn't only reading, but I was writing a book called Mountaineering, but anyway, I stick to my question. So, I guess one of the latest I read and left a good impression was the Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg, which is really a really good book. I would recommend it to everyone who thinks like it’s too late to change something. Well, it's not because all our life is based on habits and we don't really, like get rid of the habits, but we can change them and just work on a better version of ourselves.

Eliza (11:42): Yeah. Well, thanks for sparring. Okay, Ilina, you are the part of the first one in our GSMP 2012 class. And I know that since then you have stayed involved with the program in various ways. 

Carole (12:00): Ladies, sorry to interrupt. This is the ref speaking. And I feel like I must raise a yellow card. You've just mentioned the GSMP and I bet we need to provide some context to our audience. So the GSMP stands for the Global Sport Mentoring Program. It's a sport diplomacy, women's empowerment initiative, sponsored by the U.S Department of State and implemented by the one and only team at the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. And actually the three of us are alumni of this program.

Eliza (12:36): I'm really interested to hear your perspective on the changes you have seen in the program, but also to what extent you see this program as an embodiment of the international legacy of Title IX? 

Ilina (12:51): Wow, great question. I believe that the GSMP is the perfect model of implementing Title IX legacy. I love the development, the direction where the program goes in this past, it's been nine years, wow, my God, and the growth and the everlasting, like bonding of all the sisters. These guys, the team, the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, they're my idols. I mean, there's so much I could learn from them every day of just becoming a better person each day. 

Eliza (13:28): Yeah. They're really, really, really amazing. That's true. Yes. And from the lifestyle perspective and knowing about your storied career as an elite athlete, but also as accomplished artist, I'm curious to hear about how your sport accomplishment nurtures your creative vision. How are those two passions intertwined in your life? 

Ilina (13:53): So it's never boring, that's for sure. To be an artist and an athlete as well, because you always kind of visualize things in life. But also, I guess it's something like that goes in cycles in art, like in life. So when I'm in the mountains, I'm highly inspired by the mountains and then I'm, I'm nourished and my creativity for artwork comes from the mountains, but then, uh, I'm also very inspired by the people I meet. So I have a cycle when I'm more inspired by the portraits and I want to paint the portrait. And then when I want to address some message on a higher level or in a wider public, I would stick to conceptual art and then try to squeeze in some important message through the artwork. They are very connected. 

Eliza (14:39): Yeah, it's, it's, it's really a lot of ways you are expressing yourself. That's amazing. And last but not least about the current health crisis, I'm really interested in hearing your own journey navigating through it, especially it's your life is being outdoors. So what is to be learned from this experience? 

Ilina (15:02): Yeah, I realized one thing in the beginning of the year, I came back from Antarctica, completing the seven out of the seven summits mission. And I was relieved in one way that I just completed a 10 year old mission. And I brought my whole nation along because I was the first woman from this country to do it, and I was super inspired. I had my focus all over the place and I was like, “Oh, what to do next?” When suddenly we're facing a completely new reality. So I realized that accepting the situation is crucial. The sooner we accept in your reality, the faster we can move on. And we all saw what was good is that the nature could rest a little bit from the people, from us, and recover a little bit because there were less mountaineers, there was less action, there was less traffic in, in the mountains as well. So I think it was also a good for the nature too. And from another hand, my working sector, I work with tourism most was the most effected one with the pandemics and that brought a new challenges, but then also we can still look on the good side of it. Just focus more towards ourselves and do other stuff like the book or the exhibition or more yoga or more preserve, more your own mental and physical health. 

Carole (16:24): That's the end of round two, we are now moving to round three with ladies discussing about empowerment. 

Eliza (16:32): I’m afraid that we are running out of time, but let's do a lightning round before our buzzer sounds. So, what is your definition of empowerment, Ilina? 

Ilina (16:44): I read somewhere recently, it's a quote, “Leaders do not create followers, but they create other leaders,” which I agree with. It was like that for me as well. It's like planting the seeds and slowly watching them grow, in a metaphorical way. But, Eliza when we had this interview for This Is Her Story platform two years ago, you stated, “Nothing beats the adventure of empowering others by sharing your passion.” So I want to return your question and ask you today. Would you stick to the same answer or there would be something else you would like to add? 

Eliza (17:28): I will stick with this answer, but I also right now thinking about this, empowerment is feeling that you are not alone, that your voice and action matter, that you can be a changemaker. Empowerment is also freedom and solidarity.

Carole (17:47): Ref speaking here. I could not help, but end this friendly fight, with a sincere thank you to our audience. And guess what the winner of today's episode is, communities around the globe who are benefiting from greater equality and inclusivity. Thank you ladies for your priceless time and energy. You're the stars here and today, so I leave you with the final words. 

Eliza (18:12): So it was wonderful to share this episode with you, Ilina, and thank you for stepping into the ring and helping us learn more about your work to advance gender equity in sports management. And thanks to our audience for tuning into this week's episode. We hope you learned something new about outdoor sports and its sponsorship in Macedonia and Poland, and that you leave feeling inspired to make a difference in your own community. Social change is a team sport, and we are counting on you to join us as we celebrate the global impact of Title IX. Here are some easy ways to get involved.

Ilina (18:55): Click the “Like” button, subscribe to our channel, and share this podcast with your family, friends and colleagues. Leave your questions and comments on social media, and remember you can listen to more episodes of the Strong Women, Better World podcast series on your favorite podcasting platform.