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Aja Evans introduces her athletic family

Aja Evans
USA TODAY Sports

Aja Evans introduces her athletic family

She is related to a MLB Rookie of the Year and a former NFL defensive tackle

Aja Evans is an Olympic bobsled bronze medalist. Before that, she was a five-time All-American as a track and field athlete at the University of Illinois. 

But even with that resume, she has tough competition to be considered the most athletic member of her own family. 

“Pound-for-pound, I am probably the most athletic,” she said. “My family is pretty athletic, and my brother had his success in football and everybody else in their respective sports, but I think if we were to go head-to-head with a lot of stuff, I would win.”

A look at her athletic family:

Brother: Fred Evans (NFL defensive tackle)

Growing up, everything was a competition between Aja, now 29, and Fred, who is four-and-a-half years older.

“I was the younger sister trying to keep up with him,” Aja said. “I was probably more annoying than competition, but we would always go at it.”

As a teenager, Aja once challenged her older brother to race on the sidewalk to their mother’s car. The winner would get to sit in the front seat.

Aja got off to such a fast start that Fred split his pants trying to catch up. 

“That was the last time he ever raced me,” Aja said, laughing.

Aja often trained with Fred during his eight-year career as a NFL defensive tackle, including seven seasons with Minnesota Vikings. Their training group included Pro Bowl players Matt Forte, Tommie Harris and Devin Hester.

“They treated me just like the guys,” Aja said. “I think they pushed me even harder just to make sure I kept up. At the same time, I made sure they weren’t slacking.”

Aja never played football herself, but her NFL training partners jokingly floated the idea.

“They think I could have been on defense, maybe a defensive back or something,” Aja said.

She has also thought about how her older brother would fare as a bobsled push athlete. Fred was listed at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds during his final NFL season in 2013.

“I think my brother would be pretty good as a push athlete,” she said. “During the [NFL] season, I don't know how effectively or efficiently he could have gotten in the sled, because he was a little bigger then than he is now, but I definitely think he would give it a good run for his money.”

Fred traveled to Sochi to watch his sister compete at the 2014 Olympics. 

When Aja crossed the finish line, Fred was the first person that she saw. Fred gave his sister a high-five and told her, “You did it. You can relax now.”

“He knew how much pressure and stress went into fulfilling that dream,” Aja said. “He knew that that was the moment I could finally breathe.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOIL5K9hcwl/

Father: Fred Evans (Swimmer)

When Aja was assigned a Black History Month project in elementary school, she picked her father, Fred, as the subject. Fred became the first black swimmer to win a national collegiate championship in 1975. 

“I think I got a good grade,” Aja recalled. 

Fred did not push his children into swimming. The younger Fred played water polo, but neither Aja nor her sister Racheal swam competitively. 

https://twitter.com/usaswimming/status/829093549035622402

Uncle: Gary Matthews (MLB outfielder)

To baseball fans, Gary Matthews is known by the nickname “Sarge.” But not to Aja.

“I just call him Uncle Gary,” Aja said. 

Matthews played for five teams during his 16-year career. He was the 1973 National League Rookie of the Year for the San Francisco Giants, and an All-Star in 1979 for the Atlanta Braves. He arguably had his best season in 1984, finishing fifth in the voting for Most Valuable Player as the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs for the first time since 1945.

So when Aja was asked to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day of the 2014 season for the Chicago White Sox, she turned to Matthews for advice. Matthews encouraged her to “aim high.”

Aja practiced the throw often with her training partners. 

“I didn’t want to get out there on Opening Day of the season and do a 50 Cent or something,” she said, referring to the rapper whose ceremonial first pitch went comically off target

When Opening Day arrived, she chose to throw from the pitcher’s mound, rather than stand on the grass in front of it. 

“It was the most nervous I have ever been,” Aja said. “It was really intimidating being down there in front of all of those fans, and then it got really quiet so I could throw.”

Her pitch made it over the plate and was caught by White Sox pitcher John Danks (VIDEO).

“I could probably do better,” said Aja, who grew up rooting for the rival Cubs because her uncle played and coached for the team. “My goal is to throw the first pitch at the Cubs game after the [2018] Olympics, hopefully I can make that happen.”

https://twitter.com/whitesox/status/450712885342121984

Cousin Gary Matthews Jr. (MLB outfielder)

Aja grew up going to the ballpark to watch Matthews Jr., who was an All-Star for the Texas Rangers in 2006, play against the Cubs and White Sox.  

She refers to her cousin, who is 13 years older, as “Junior.”

They have gotten close in recent years. Aja stays with Matthews Jr. at his home in Anaheim when she visits Southern California. 

“We kick it and grab sushi or whatever,” Aja said. 

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