For Olympic bobsledders Elana Meyers Taylor, who won an Olympic silver medal (the third medal of her career!) at the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea; and Aja Evans, a Chicago native, who won bronze at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it isn’t always easy to stay looking cute when they have bitter winds and frostbite-level temps to deal with.
EBONY caught up with the two athletes to discuss the challenges they’ve faced defying racial stereotypes as well as how they keep themselves fly against the harsh cold.
EBONY: How did you get into bobsledding?
Elana: I was playing professional softball in 2007 after I graduated from George Washington University that summer and trying to make the Olympic team. I didn’t make the team, so I needed a new sport in order to become an Olympian! My parents saw Vonetta Flowers compete in bobsled and recommended I try it. I searched for a coach online and sent an email, which led to my being inviting to try out.
Aja: My coach told me about bobsledding my senior year of college in 2010 during combine-style testing events leading into indoor track and field season. I initially brushed it off because I just thought of the film Cool Runnings and didn’t picture myself doing that, but he told me about Vonetta Flowers and showed me how my track and field successes would make me do really well at bobsledding. I gave it a year and then tried out, and it ended up being a really good fit.
EBONY: What challenges have you faced as Black women competing in the sport?
Elana: With the team being more diverse, there is a responsibility to be greater than your sport and do it as a proud person of color. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, and I look forward to continue helping kids of color succeed and helping teach them that no matter who they are and what they look like, there are opportunities. Oh, and hair care is a challenge! Now that we have a more diverse team, it’s great to be able to talk about that and work through the hair challenges together.
Aja: Being a Black woman, you’re faced with challenges you’re not even totally aware of. My mom groomed me to be a strong woman, so going into anything I always wanted to be the best, regardless of skin color or where I came from. When I started bobsled and received so much positive feedback from African-American women and my home city, it showed me that being Black in this sport meant more than just being an athlete who went for medals—it was bigger than that and bigger than me. I truly wanted to inspire and open people’s eyes across the world.
EBONY: You’re both part of P&G Love Over Bias campaign, which reflects stories of real athlete challenges through their moms’ eyes. Why is being a part of that campaign so important to you?
Aja: That’s my life. Being from Chicago and being Black, you’re born into certain stereotypes and people look at you a certain way. My mom helped me to get past that at an early age and refused to let me be a by-product of that environment. She exposed me to all sorts of different activities and opened my eyes to a million possibilities, which carried me on to being a Winter Olympian and allowed me to accomplish dreams in a sport I never would have thought of. The Love Over Bias campaign truly speaks to the journey I went through.
Elana: I’m proud to be a part of it; it transcends sports. People are told all the time that they shouldn’t be able to do things based on their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, and I’m so happy to be part of a campaign that’s working to prove those things wrong and show people if we can love each other like a mom loves, the world will be a much better place.
EBONY: You’re often outside in the harsh elements, so how do you protect your skin or hair from the deep freeze?
Aja: The weather takes a serious toll on my skin, so moisturizing is key. I love Olay Whips, which provides just enough moisture while still being lightweight on my skin. I’m also into essential oils and shea butters to lock in extra moisture for those extra-harsh days.
Elana: The biggest thing for me is keeping my hair moisturized. My go-tos are the Pantene Gold Series Hydrating Butter Cream and Intense Hydrating Oil. Growing up as a tomboy, I realize now that if I had taken care of my hair then, it would be in much better shape now.