Aja Evans had always envisioned herself competing at the Olympic Games in track and field. A standout student-athlete at the University of Illinois, she qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials in shot put during her sophomore season. But in 2010, her college coach mentioned the winter sport of bobsled.
"When I was throwing shot put at Illinois, there was no way I thought I was going to be an Olympian in bobsled. That was actually when my coach introduced me to the sport,” Evans said. “It was my senior year, around the 2010 Winter Games, and he told me about bobsled.”
Evans, like most young adults, had seen the movie “Cool Runnings,” but outside of that, knew little about the sport and brushed off her coach’s comments. It wasn’t until 2012, almost two years after her initial conversation, that Evans decided to give bobsled a chance.
“I think him planting that seed in my brain gave me a new outlook,” Evans said. “I think a lot of collegiate athletes don’t realize the potential they have in some of these Olympic sports. You don’t grow up doing bobsled. You grow up as track and field athletes, football players, soccer, softball. If you have that power, that speed and that athleticism, it transfers into the sport of bobsled and still gives you the chance to accomplish your hopes and dreams."
The Chicago native harnessed the same explosiveness and power that earned her five All-American honors in shot put while at Illinois to propel herself onto the bobsled stage. She scored a perfect 800/800 at the bobsled combine in 2012 and won the U.S. bobsled push championship her rookie season, proving quickly that she also belonged on the ice track.
Only two years after trying out for the team, and picking up bobsled altogether, Evans found herself standing on an Olympic podium next to drive and teammate Jamie Greubel Poser – a former track and field athlete at Cornell University herself – with bronze medals hanging around their necks at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
“As a kid, I always knew I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Evan said. “Track and field was the only sport I did faithfully from high school until post-collegiate. I stumbled into bobsled. That dream has always been there, I just didn't know that bobsled was going to be the avenue to take me there."
Four years after Sochi, Evans is still at the top of her bobsled game. She and Greubel Poser earned bronze at the 2017 world championships, and Evans has earned 13 world cup medals in her four seasons in the sport to date. With the 2018 Games in PyeongChang a little over two months out, she looks to continue her success and growth, with her eyes on the podium in South Korea. All thanks to a casual conversation and a curious college coach just seven years ago.