Bobsledder Aja Evans has spent her entire life surrounded by athletic excellence.
Her father was the first Black national collegiate swimming champion during his time at Chicago State. Her brother was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings; her uncle is retired Major League Baseball outfielder and Phillies broadcaster Gary Matthews, and her cousin Gary Matthews Jr. also played professional baseball.
Even so, she never felt pressured to follow that path.
“I was never forced to do sports; my parents just let my sister and I be kids and I think that helped me have the longevity and the career I have in sports,” said the Olympic medal-winner. “Growing up, my sister and I did every camp you can imagine, from dancing to canoeing to kayaking — we were outdoors all the time. In high school, I started in track and field and that was the only sport I did up until bobsled. It felt great to pull my seat up to the table with a sports family.”
Although she has competed in two consecutive Olympics, scoring a bronze in 2014 as the brakeman with Jamie Greubel Poser in Sochi, and finishing fifth in the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, she’s still touched by her family’s reaction to her success.
“My brother played in the NFL for eight years, my uncle and cousin were both MLB stars so for them to admire the things that I’ve accomplished and hold it in such high regard is just insane to me,” she said. “And they’re all going to be excited to cheer me on and see what we do next year.”
Evans, whose first name is pronounced Asia — “My parents were Steely Dan fans so that’s where they got the spelling,” she explained — believes her chances of bringing home a medal next February are good.
“I absolutely believe the third time’s a charm,” she said. We have two of the best pilots in the world. Elana Meyers Taylor, the returning silver medalist, and now we have Kaillie Humphries, who is an Olympic bobsled legend with more than 15 years in the sport with Canada, but now she represents the U.S. I never thought I would have the opportunity to race with her, we’ve always been competitors, so I think Team USA really has the best caliber of athletes to bring it home.”
Ironically, Evans almost wasn’t part of the conversation since she had made the decision to retire after the 2018 Games.
“I can’t believe I’m even back in sport,” she said. After South Korea, she felt bogged down in what she called “imposter syndrome,” feelings of self-doubt despite her accomplishments. “So many of my adult years have been dedicated to this Olympic journey so it felt like ‘Olympic Aja’ was all I had to offer. Taking a break gave me the freedom to try other things and really figure out my purpose and what my passions were.”
Although she enjoyed her time in the corporate world, working in the communications department of Invenergy, a natural energy company based in Chicago, she said the nine-to-five grind was “not my style.”
So she returned to her first love.
“I felt this platform really is part of my purpose,” she said, pointing to her work with children and the community in her hometown of Chicago that she believes will benefit from her pursuit of another Olympic medal. “I think I’m meant to be on this stage and back at it.”
She came out of retirement less than one year ago, and it’s been a whirlwind since then. She had less than three months to get ready for the national team trials, which was her first time back on the ice in three years. But with the help of her coaches, Jacob Ross and Les Spellman, she won both trials races and made the Team USA bobsled team. She’s now in Lake Placid, N.Y., training with the team and preparing for the Games, which are 100 days from today.
As an athlete ambassador for Ralph Lauren, Evans knows that she’ll be well dressed in Beijing.
The company unveiled the Team USA Closing Ceremony Parade Uniforms for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will feature sustainable materials and manufacturing practices. The entire uniform is manufactured in the U.S.
The Closing Ceremony uniform includes a buffalo plaid hooded puffer jacket created from recycled polyester and recycled down; a fleece pant for men and legging for women, and gloves and boots made with recycled polyester. An intarsia turtleneck sweater and hat are made from Responsible Wool Standard-certified U.S grown wool.
“Ralph Lauren is incredibly proud to outfit Team USA in apparel that has been designed with integrity and purpose,” said David Lauren, chief branding and innovation officer of Ralph Lauren. “For these Games, the design aesthetic of our uniform represents a modern look that feels distinctly new and fresh, created with sustainability in mind. We are highly invested in scaling sustainability solutions that have the potential to significantly reduce our and the wider industry’s impact, and we are proud to have created thoughtful apparel for Team USA that embodies this mission.”
The uniforms will be available for purchase beginning today on the Ralph Lauren e-commerce site. A portion of the sales support the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, a gesture that strikes home with Evans.
“These outfits feel good on the body and Ralph Lauren actually supports the athletes by giving some proceeds from these collections, so it’s good all around,” she said. “And one of the things I like most is all of the uniforms have sustainable properties. They’re a 50-year-old fashion company, but everything feels so modern and fly and I really feel good every time I’m wearing it. I’m very much a look-good-feel-good type of athlete. So even in the sport of bobsled, I may have a helmet on but you’ll see my lashes and a wing liner and I’ll always bring it.”