If bobsled doesn’t work out for Aja Evans, the 24-year-old former track athlete could probably make it as a wide receiver. If the NFL would have her.
Aja (pronounced “Asia,” after the 1977 Steely Dan album and song) is the younger sister of Fred Evans, a 6’4” 305-pound defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. But in Lake Placid, she’s the standout rookie on the U.S. bobsled team this year and is a strong candidate to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. So chances are good that bobsled will work out.
A 2010 graduate of the University of Illinois and NCAA five-time All-American in shot put, Aja decided to give bobsled a go in March 2012. After almost a two-year break from track, she missed being an athlete. And in the middle of the night last March, bobsled popped into her head.
Her track coach had mentioned bobsled to her during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. He was watching the bobsled heats on TV and learned that the combine test for making the U.S. bobsled team — timed sprints, broad jump, shot toss, and squats — were similar to the events that the track team used to gauge fitness.
“You could kill it,” he told Aja.
But Aja, who competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in track & field, was focused on shot put at the time, not a sport done on an icy track in a far-off land. She forgot about bobsled. Until that night seven months ago.
When she woke up, she looked up bobsled’s combine test. Sprints: 60 meters in 7.5 seconds, check. Broad jump: 3 meters, check. Shot toss: 15 meters, check (she set Illinois’s outdoor school record at 17.03 meters). Squats: 130 kilograms (286.6 lbs), check.
“You know, I think I can do this,” she thought.
Aja walked into work at EFT Sports Performance outside Chicago and over lunch asked the facility’s founder, Elias Karras, what he thought. “Sure!” he responded. Training in the mornings and working in the afternoons, she could be ready in time for a July tryout, he said.
So Aja began working out with her brother, who’s five years older, and other NFL players, like Bears cornerback Tim Jennings and running back Matt Forte.
“That was my training group, all NFL players and me,” said Aja by phone a few days after she was named to the 2012 U.S. bobsled team.
Working out with them, she picked up a few pointers. “My brother helped me stay focused,” she said. “They have no room for excuses. You have to put in that work, but they make the environment really fun at the same time. It’s like a family environment, like training around all your brothers.”
Aja showed them a few tricks as well. Like how to box jump.
“They couldn’t touch me in the box jumps,” she said, with quiet pride. “I’m really explosive. I have powerful legs, so on the dynamic days and the lower lift days, I was really able to keep up with them pound for pound.”
Check out her seated box jump. Seated in a chair on the floor, she can leap straight up four feet and land on her feet on top of a box.
Asked if she had ever beaten her brother Fred before, she laughed, then said yes. Years ago, in an impromptu sibling race down the street, she was beating him. As he tried to surge by his little sister, his pants split, ending his bid for sibling dominance. At least on that day.
In July 2012 at the combine test in Lake Placid, Aja squatted more than 130 kilograms in warm-up. She had no idea that this was the maximum amount needed to score a perfect 100. In the broad jump, she out-jumped the “perfect” 3 meters. In the shot toss, she threw farther than a perfect 15 meters. She only missed six points (out of 800) in the sprint when she triggered the clock before the official start.
So it was no surprise when she won the U.S. Bobsled Push Championships in early October, beating last year’s push champion Katie Eberling. Three weeks later, Aja and Jamie Greubel broke the Lake Placid bobsled track’s start record during selection races. She helped get their two-woman bobsled up to speed faster than summer Olympians Tianna Madison and Lolo Jones could power their sleds off the start.
It was only her third day sprinting on ice. Aja wasn’t even fully comfortable careening down the track yet. But the track record erased any doubts about whether or not bobsled was for her or not.
“After that, I became hungry for the sport,” she said. “I was ready to get back out there and keep working at it.”
Now she wants her brother to experience bobsledding.
“He’s so competitive, he’s crazy,” said Aja, as only a sister could. “He’ll definitely want to try it. I just don’t know if he’ll fit!”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.