Althea Gibson. Wilma Rudolph. Venus and Serena Williams. Dawn Staley. Simone Biles. Clarissa Shields. These women overcame racial and gender barriers and surpassed the competition in their respective sports to be among an elite group of black athletes who will forever be known as Olympians.
Two-time Olympian Aja Evans always dreamed of competing on the world stage, but as a child, she didn’t foresee achieving this goal as a bobsledder. The Chicago native made a name for herself as a track and field student-athlete at the University of Illinois. Her dynamic skills as a shot put thrower and sprinter is how Evans assumed she’d get her first Olympic medal. But when her track coach Mike Erb convinced her to pursue bobsledding, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle “it was an eye-opener.”
“I fit the sport so well and I was able to accomplish all my dreams and goals,” she says. Evans first competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. She and Jamie Greubel won bronze in the two-woman event.
“I went to a sport I had no background in, no history in, and went on to win an Olympic medal in two years. So to have that kind of confidence in myself and that type of ambition was really, really a glow-up for me,” says Evans. “I was always competing in things I was routined and used to doing. To say forget that and just do this … it’s never been the same since.”
The biggest lesson she learned from her first Olympic experience? “I think in pursuing these certain dreams and goals and aspirations, you have to be open [to] it being wrapped in a different package,” says Evans, “or not being what you think it’ll be because it’s not always going to be how you pictured it for yourself but that doesn’t mean the opportunity isn’t there.”
Black athletes such as Marion Jones, Allyson Felix, and Usain Bolt have dominated track and field events. However, the face of bobsledding is changing thanks to individuals like Evans and she doesn’t take this lightly.
“When I first came into the sport, it went from like a predominately white sport — predominately European — to five out of six women on Team USA are black and then three out of six on the podium are black,” she says. “Now it’s just so good to see as we compete in these other countries there’s more African-American women. You’ve got Team Germany, Nigeria, Canada, Austria, so the diversity is really growing and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
While the self-proclaimed “bobsled bombshell” declares that the women in sports she’s encountered of various races and backgrounds are “pretty down to Earth,” she and other black athletes “naturally gravitate towards one another.”
“It’s like even though we’re black women from different countries, we all still deal with the same things, talk about the same things. On Instagram, we’ll still be tagging each other in memes that I swear only black girls get and like little inside jokes. Even with my German friends … to just be able to share that no matter what country you’re from is just incredible.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Meet Maame Biney, the first black woman to compete as a U.S. Olympic speed skater
- Mirai Nagasu just landed a triple axel at the Olympics. Here’s how she did it.
- What 11 Olympians do in the morning to start their days off right
- What 11 Olympians packed to make PyeongChang feel a little more like home
- This biathlete casually learned how to speak Korean before heading to the Olympics