When Emily Azevedo first decided to try her hand at bobsledding, she wasn’t skiing in the Alps or inner-tubing in Tahoe – she was watching the Olympics from her house in Davis.
Now, four years after taking up the sport, the UC Davis graduate and former Aggie track star is heading to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics as a member of the United States’ bobsledding team. She will compete as brakewoman in the two-woman bobsled.
“It’s really amazing to be able to compete for our country,” said Azevedo, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in exercise biology. “In addition to that, you can’t really beat the adrenaline rush of bobsledding.”
Azevedo, a Chico native, participated in gymnastics, soccer and track throughout her childhood. As a member of the UC Davis track team, she set the school record in 100-meter hurdles and qualified for the 2003 NCAA Championships.
Azevedo’s bobsledding career began after she watched the 2006 Torino Olympics on television. At the time, she did not know what the future held for her.
“I was just going through life, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Every week I’d have a new goal of what I was going to do,” she said.
She realized that she had a lot in common with many of the Olympians.
“The [bobsled] girls’ backgrounds and bios were very similar to mine,” she said. “There were a lot of girls from track and it was very similar to me so I just thought it was something I could do.”
Azevedo’s sister, Chelsea, didn’t take her seriously at first.
“I laughed. She jokes around a lot,” said Chelsea, senior exercise biology major. “She had finished track at the end of her fourth year and then she still had about a quarter left at Davis so the question was always, ‘Oh, what are you going to do?’ and she’d come up with these oddball things. She talked about bobsledding and I was like, ‘Okay, whatever, go for it, Emily.’ We didn’t think she was serious.”
In 2006, Azevedo was invited to attend a training camp in Lake Placid, New York. It was there that she experienced bobsledding for the first time.
“I did not like my first experience. I hated it,” Azevedo said. “When I went out to classes for my first camp I didn’t want people to look at me and go, ‘Oh gosh, this girl totally doesn’t belong, what is she doing?’ I was more nervous about that than the trip.”
She had difficulty adapting to the physical challenges of bobsledding as well.
“It’s a pretty violent ride. There are a lot of different pressures that you have never experienced before,” she said. “Once you learn where you are in the track, in different places in the corners, you know what to expect and it’s a little bit easier.”
With only a few months of practice, Azevedo competed in the 2006-2007 World Championships and World Cup, finishing in the top 10 at both. In 2009, she and her partner in the two-woman bobsled, driver Bree Schaaf won the U.S. national championship, putting themselves in contention for spots on the Olympic team. Schaaf will also be her partner in Vancouver.
As brakewoman, Azevedo’s job is to gain maximum speed by pushing the bobsled for the first five seconds of the run. Then, she jumps into the sled behind the driver, who steers them down the track.
UC Davis track and field coach, Deanne Vochatzer, said that Azevedo’s skills as a hurdler gave her a strong foundation for bobsledding.
“As a brakewoman and pusher, she is moving this object,” Vochatzer said. “She’s used to going out of the box and driving hard in hurdling. She’s also done a lot of work to get stronger and improve her speed.”
On Jan. 16, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announced that Azevedo would be one of six women on the bobsled team. She said she was never certain of her place on the team.
“I was confident in my abilities and confident in the work I had put in to get to that point,” Azevedo said. “But you just never know until you’re actually announced. We had a really great group of athletes this year, so every day was a competition and every day was a race to get that spot.”
Azevedo’s mother, Wendy, is thrilled to watch her daughter compete in the Olympics.
“We are giddy,” she said. “To go from the day-to-day grind of being on a team and all of a sudden find out you’re going to the Olympics is something every child in any sport strives to do. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of crying and saying, ‘Oh my God!'”
Azevedo’s sister Geneva said that Emily’s focused attitude has helped her to be successful in bobsledding.
“She doesn’t set goals and then hopes she reaches them. She sets goals and then decides she is reaching them,” said Geneva, a first-year undeclared environmental sciences major, in an e-mail interview.
It doesn’t matter to the Azevedo family whether Emily wins a medal or not. Her Olympic dream has already been fulfilled.
“When you have a child you want the satisfaction of watching them obtain the dreams that they reach for. But I know whatever happens – just being on the team and accomplishing what she has – has been phenomenal,” said Wendy.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.