A five-time all-American as a shot put thrower and a sprinter at the University of Illinois with three Big Ten titles, Aja Evans was destined to be an Olympian. Growing up, she assumed her path would lead to the track and field category but — flash forward — and she's been named one of the nine female bobsled national team members for the 2017-18 season, which includes the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Evans made her bobsledding debut at the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex in upstate New York in the winter of 2011 when she was just 22 years old. While she'd never been on a bobsled prior to that, she was no stranger to the sport's explosive start — the power in bobsledding derives from the athlete's legs, as it does in both shot put and sprinting. Perhaps that's why Evans had her breakout moment rather early on in her bobsledding career setting a start record during the 2012 USA Bobsled National Push Championships.
Shortly thereafter, Evans found herself on the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, wearing a bronze medal around her neck. She pushed Jamie Greubel Poser then, and she also pushed Greubel Poser to the bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships. Now in her second Olympic cycle, we caught up with the athlete to chat about what the sport means to her, what it's like representing Black women for team USA — and fine, also a bit about her beauty routine. (Those winter sports can wreak havoc on your skin!)
Can you tell us a bit about your background as a former track and field athlete-turned-bobsledder? What made you decide to try bobsledding?
When I participated in track and field, it was a power-house combo that speed, power and explosiveness all were a part of. I brushed off the idea of competing in bobsledding at first because I always thought I would be an Olympian in track and field, but I have a great love for both sports and when the opportunity to compete in bobsledding came into my life, I didn't turn it down because I missed being an athlete and competing on that level.
What are your proudest successes in the sport thus far?
My proudest successes in bobsledding so far are definitely making the USA Olympics Team and getting the opportunity to represent our country at highest level possible. Another proud moment was when I received a medal in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, especially in front of my brother who was in the NFL for eight years — it felt good to get that same feeling he must have felt when competing.
You've said before that bobsledding is a predominantly European sport and you haven't found too many people who look like you, so the sport stands for something more to you. Can you tell us about what it feels like to represent not only the United States but Black women in the Olympics?
My mom always raised to be a strong woman, regardless of what I was doing. When I ventured into bobsledding, it didn't occur to me that I was seen as more than an athlete; there was this additional layer — I was a Black athlete in a sport that wasn't common for us to be a part of. Once it was brought to my attention, I did everything I could to wear that title proudly and have always strived to do my very best. It is such an honor to be a Black woman in the Winter Olympic Games.
Talk to us about what it's taken getting to the Olympics with a different story from the prototypical Olympian's training story.
I grew up competing in track and field, not bobsledding. So pivoting away from a sport I thought I was going to pursue my whole life and then suddenly being 25 years old at my first Winter Olympic Games as a bobsledder was very different. It was a predominately new sport and I quickly learned from the girls whose position I was essentially trying to take.
I was blessed to have that athleticism from track and field, and it put me on the same level physically, but I definitely had a lot to learn in a shorter time period and made a lot of mistakes. Going into a sport where you don't have as long of a history as other people can be intimating and discouraging at first, but I was able to stick it out and really see results from believing in myself.
What does being part of the 2018 Olympics mean to you?
This time around, I have more of a veteran status and am more educated on what it takes to win, so I'm excited to be on the journey with more experience under my belt. I'm really looking forward to achieving my goals both physically and as a teammate.
As an athlete (and a winter athlete, in particular), you have to find beauty secrets and tricks to deal with the different weather conditions. What are the most important types of products you use for your skin to survive the elements?
Being an Olympic winter athlete, keeping my skin hydrated and moisturized is very important. After a cold day outside training or competing, all I want to do is shower and use the Olay Cleansing Infusion Body Wash — it's amazing. [Evans is a spokesperson for the brand.] My skin-care routine has evolved because I want to take better care of my skin.
How important is maintaining healthy skin in your sport? Does your beauty routine play a role in your success?
It's so important. I don't want to have to worry about my skin being dry in these weather conditions — it can be distracting. So the more I can hydrate, the better. The body wash really helps me to stay hydrated throughout the day regardless of any weather conditions I'm thrown into.
Can you tell us about what your beauty routine for the 2018 Olympics will look like?
My skin-care at the games includes my favorite products like the Olay Cleansing Infusions Cleanser, because it really hydrates my skin, which will be very important for the cold temperatures in Pyeongchang. I'm also really into any lotions and rich shea butters to feel as soft and as glow-y as possible.
What message of empowerment would you give to other women inspired by your career?
Go for it and pull your all into it! Don't listen to anyone else and chase your dreams. Following your dreams can be intimidating but I accomplished it — so you can, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.