Olympic bobsledder Aja Evans comes from a very, very athletic family.
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“My mother was a track star, my father was a swimmer, my older brother played in the NFL for eight years. My uncle, Gary ‘Sarge’ Matthews is a baseball legend and played for teams such as the Phillies and Cubs. My cousin also had an extensive MLB career with teams such as the Cubs and Angels,” Evans explained.
“My sister was born with the gift of gab; I think my brother and I took all the athletic genes,” she added, laughing.
But she has something that none of her relatives have: an Olympic medal.
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In 2014, only two years after her first time touching a bobsled, Evans competed in the Sochi Olympics in Russia, taking home a bronze medal in two-woman bobsled. She’ll have a chance to best that when she competes in PyeongChang, South Korea later this month.
Like many bobsledders, Evans started out in track and field, sprinting and doing shot put in college, a perfect combination of the power and speed needed for bobsled. She said she was always fast and competitive, a product of her siblings “competing in everything.”
“One day when I was growing up my brother decided to race me down the street to the car, and I beat him so bad he ripped his jeans trying to catch me,” she explained. “Needless to say, he never tried to race me again. But we did train together, alongside other NFL players, during my journey into bobsled.”
She had long fantasized about the Olympics. “Every four years, my family would watch the summer Olympics, specifically the track and field events,” she said. “I imagined myself participating as a sprinter.”
However, after college in 2012, she transitioned away from track and field and into bobsledding at the suggestion of a college coach. Even given her competitive nature, it wasn’t exactly a seamless change.
“My first time ever down the bobsled track was in Lake Placid, New York and it was a very intense experience,” Evans explained, adding that, naturally, her initial introduction to the sport came from watching Cool Runnings, one of her now-favorite movies, as a child.
“I definitely looked like a deer in headlights and I literally didn’t understand how this was an Olympic sport and people actually liked doing it.”
She called her mom, who Evans says told her, “Aja, you better go back up to the top of that hill and go again!”
She credits her mom, who she calls a “superhero,” with helping her persevere in the sport. However she did more than persevere, she experienced significant success almost immediately.
“My third day on the ice, I set the start record with the USA women’s bobsled team at team trials. I quickly realized that I could master the sport of bobsled and become an elite team member,” said the philanthropic athlete (she supports Girls in the Game, among other organizations). “I realized I liked winning and setting records, so I guess I could stick around for bit.”
But no win would be as sweet as the one that could come this month, four years after she won her first medal.
“Success for me in PyeongChang is gold,” she said. “I know what it takes to get there and I’ve already proven myself on that track, so it’s all about putting it together for the games.”
To help her get there, she just remembers the advice she’s given to other aspiring Olympians: “Be fearless in your pursuit and open to receiving help from your competitors.”
To learn more about Aja Evans, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics begin on February 8th.