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's an NFL defensive tackle for the Vikings, eight seasons in the league. His cousin, Gary Matthews Jr., spent 12 years in Major League Baseball. And his uncle, Gary "Sarge" Matthews, is a one-time MLB All-Star who was a fan favorite during his four seasons with the Cubs in the '80s.
Despite all that, Evans insists that it's his younger sister Aja Evans -- a brakeman on the USA-2 sled -- who has accomplished the most in the family. In fact, everyone else's resumes seem provincial by comparison.
"By far, she's the top," Fred Evans said. "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 0.56 seconds 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, is in second with a 0.33-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 his sister run warm-up sprints near the track and shouting words of encouragement. Because their seasons typically overlap, these Games mark the first time he has been in person to see her race in a bobsled event.
He looked wide-eyed at the Olympic rings emblazoned behind the start line and at the Sochi 2014 logos printed along the walls and he couldn't help but reminisce about the little girl who, though five years younger, always strove to keep pace with her big brother. Aja Evans wanted to run as fast as him, jump as high, compete as hard.
Now look at her: She's favored to medal at her first Olympics.
"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."
As she grew up on the South and West sides of Chicago, no one expected Aja Evans to become a Winter Olympian. She was a track star, fast enough to finish fourth in the 100 at state for Morgan Park and strong enough to be the Big Ten champion in the shot put 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 in 2012 and stunning everyone by the winning the push trials that year. When she announced her plans to join the national team, her family rallied behind her -- even though they had never heard of a bobsledder from Chicago.
"In our family, when people have a dream, we get behind them and say, 'Go for it,' " said her cousin, Del Matthews, assistant director of player development and scouting for the White Sox. "She went after it, and it's been inspiring to all us."
And they've all let her know that.
Evans had 10 relatives in the stands when she pushed the USA-2 sled off the starting line in the rain-soaked Caucasus Mountains. Although she is just two clean runs from an Olympic medal, she still can't quite 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," she said. "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. It's empowering to have that much support. It just keeps driving me more and more."
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services