I met Emily Azevedo in 2006. She had joined the women’s bobsled team and was competing on the World Cup circuit in her first year. I had taken the first half of the season off after the 2006 Olympics to finish my graduate degree. So when I met up with the team, Emily had already proven that she had the potential to make the 2010 Olympic team. But she was going to need to gain a lot of strength and learn better push technique to become an Olympic brakeman.
She and I started working with Jon Carlock, a strength and conditioning coach with the USOC. Because we had similar workouts and the same schedules, we started working together in the weight room as well as on the running track. We found that we pushed each other and cheered one another on despite not exactly lifting the same amount of weights or having the same sprint times. I would see her strain and stretch her limits every day and I would have no choice but to do the same. I had been on the National Bobsled Team for three years, but I made my biggest gains during that first off-season training with Emily.
Naturally, because we spent up to 6 hours a day training together, we became great friends, too. Living at the Olympic Training Center, we shared a schedule of meals, sports medicine, and training times. We became—as much as an independent guy like me hates to admit—inseparable.
That next bobsled season was a big year for both of us. It was the second year of the 4 year Olympic cycle and it was important to establish a good position on our respective teams in order to be named to the 2010 Team. That year I was promoted to USA 1 and Emily raced consistently throughout the season and definitely earned the respect of the other girls already on the team. Both accomplishments were considered successful for each of us.
The next three summers in Colorado Springs were some of my best memories while training for bobsled. There were days that I could barely walk back to my dorm room because she and I pushed each other so hard doing squats and sprints. Looking back, those were the days that made the difference for both of us.
On January 17, 2010, the Vancouver Olympic team was announced. I have to admit I was more thrilled when they announced Emily’s name, than when they said my own. I had been to the 2006 Olympics already and I was more secure with my spot on the 2010 team. But Emily had to battle every day that season with three other girls for the final spot on the team. She had zero down time and was always being tested. She burst into tears immediately and I was sure to video record her as she called her parents and family after the announcement.
I walked into the Opening ceremonies next to her and my teammates, one of the happiest days of my life. I was able to win a gold medal at those Olympics and she and her teammate Bree Schaaf surprised the bobsled world by almost winning a medal, finishing 5th.
I have continued to train with Emily for the past Olympic quad as well. We both felt we could prove more in the 2014 Olympics in Russia. Again, every day for the past 4 years, we trained side by side. Some days were good and we would both put up some impressive numbers. But some days weren’t so optimistic and we felt that we wouldn’t reach our goals. Those were the days that we needed each other the most.
“I would see her fight and strain to last through workouts. And that would give me the strength to do the same. We encouraged each other through injuries, even surgeries. And we are both stronger and faster now because of it.”
So as thrilled as I was when I saw her reaction to making the 2010 team, I was twice as mortified when they didn’t call her name for the 2014 Olympics. As much as I disagree with the decision, the selection committee decided to go with another female athlete. There were tears again this time, but for a different reason. I would be going to Sochi without my training partner and best friend.
It will take time to understand that, despite the end goal not being reached, I don’t regret one day of training with Emily. The sweat, pain, and daily soreness were no match for the fun, laughter, and friendship that we have now. She has pushed me to not only to be the athlete I am (a 3x Olympian) but I have enjoyed each day along the way.
Everyone who has worked with us throughout our careers including teammates, sports med staff, coaches, dining hall staff, and especially Jon will tell you that they probably couldn’t picture one of us without the other. We’ve been compared to a more recent Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair. When I retire from the sport, I’ll miss those training days with Emily more than anything.
She has truly inspired me daily to be the best I can be at the 2014 Olympics.