SOCHI, Russia — As he stands waiting for the women's bobsled event to begin, Fred Evans acknowledges that his family has done some pretty impressive things in the sports world.
He has played in the NFL for the last eight seasons. His cousin Gary Matthews Jr. spent 12 years in Major League Baseball, including stints with the Chicago Cubs and the Angels. And his uncle Gary "Sarge" Matthews is a former MLB All-Star.
Despite all that, Fred Evans insists that it's his younger sister Aja — a brakeman on the USA-2 sled — who has accomplished the most. In fact, everyone else's resumes seem provincial by comparison.
"By far, she's the top," said Fred Evans, a defensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings. "The Olympics are something special to the entire world.…I love what I do and I'm blessed to be an NFL athlete, but my sister is an Olympian. That far exceeds anything anyone else in our family has ever done."
Aja Evans and her pilot, Jamie Greubel, sit in third place after the first two runs in the women's event Tuesday. They are .56 of a second behind teammates Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams, who are in first after setting a track record at the Sanki Sliding Center.
Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries, who won gold in Vancouver four years ago, is in second with a .33-second lead over Evans and Greubel. It will be tough, but not impossible, to overtake her for silver.
"We're hungry for more," Evans said. "I have a lot of confidence in Jamie — and myself as well. We have a lot more in store."
Before the race began, Fred Evans stood anxiously in the stands, watching Aja run warmup sprints near the track and shouting words of encouragement. Because their seasons typically overlap, these Games mark the first time he has ever seen her race in a bobsled event.
"I'm feeling a bit emotional," he said, in a choked voice. "I'm just standing here thinking that my sister — my sister — is talented enough to compete at the Olympic level with the best athletes in the world and I'm just extremely proud."
When Aja Evans was growing up in Chicago, no one expected her to become a Winter Olympian. She was a track star, fast enough to finish fourth in the state-meet 100 meters and strong enough to be the Big Ten champion in the shotput for Illinois.
At her college coach's urging, she looked into bobsledding and decided to give it a try after posting the highest score at the U.S. federation's combine test in 2012 and stunning everyone by winning the push trials that year. When she announced her plans to join the national team, her family rallied behind her.
"In our family, when people have a dream, we get behind them and say 'go for it,' said her cousin Del Matthews, the assistant director of player development and scouting for the Chicago White Sox. "She went after it, and it's been inspiring to all of us."
And they've all let her know that too.
Evans had 10 relatives in the stands when she pushed the USA-2 sled off the starting line in the rain-soaked Caucasus Mountains on Tuesday. And although she is just two clean runs away from an Olympic medal, she still can't believe that her career would rank up there with the rest of her famous family's achievements.
"I idolized my brother and my uncle and my cousins growing up. To have such great figures in my life supporting me and saying that this is bigger than anything else that they've accomplished kind of gives me goose bumps," she said. "It's empowering to have that much support. It just keeps driving me more and more."
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