U.S. bobsled push athlete and Olympic hopeful Aja Evans was hospitalized in Germany on Friday after she suffered facial lacerations during a training accident.
Evans is expected to be released Saturday, though it is unclear when she will be able to return to racing.
But to U.S. coach Mike Kohn, that is a secondary part of the story.
Evans was with a handful of U.S. push athletes — Lolo Jones, Lauren Gibbs and Lake Kwaza among them, Kohn said — when she got hurt at the track near Altenberg, Germany. They were the ones who sprang into action, making phone calls to alert coaches, rushing to Evans’ side to provide comfort, even administering the initial rounds of first aid before more help could arrive.
“I’m just really impressed with this team and so proud to be its coach today,” Kohn said. “This is the American spirit, beyond what most people are doing in this world. This was unbelievable. They inspired me today. I never thought I would see those four girls, all hugging, in tears, to support a teammate. Incredibly inspirational.”
Further complicating matters for the U.S. team on Friday was that skeleton athlete Austin Florian had gotten hurt, around the same time of Evans’ mishap. Florian crashed in the men’s World Cup race at Altenberg, and he needed about a half-dozen stitches over his eye.
Evans needed about 30 stitches for an array of cuts, Kohn said.
“I don’t know if it was instinct or just came to us automatically,” Jones said. “We all had our different strengths in that moment. We never came more together as a team. Lauren was comforting Aja, I was on the phone calling people for help, Lake was the glue going back and forth between all of us.”
Jones and bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries, who returned to Germany on Friday after becoming a U.S. citizen and clearing the last big hurdle she had to gain Olympic eligibility for this winter’s Beijing Games, paid to bring massage therapist Don Butzner on the World Cup circuit to help with their training and recovery this season.
By pure luck, Jones invited Butzner to the push track on Friday. She warned him that it would be cold and probably boring, but he decided that beat the alternative of sitting in a hotel room.
Butzner had a first-aid kit with him, and that proved invaluable in the immediate moments after Evans got hurt.
Olympic years tend to be challenging in terms of team camaraderie. Sliders are all part of the U.S. team, but they are all simultaneously competing with one another for spots in World Cup races and on the Olympic team.
“And then you get a day like this, that brings a team together,” Kohn said. “This is the American spirit at its best, by far. I am so proud of these athletes, this team. I am just beaming with pride because of this group. They were unbelievable today. Unbelievable.”
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