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Emily Azevedo

Emily Azevedo wasn't always a bobsledder. Similar to Olympic track star Lolo Jones, who made the giant leap from hurdling to bobsledding in advance of the 2014 Winter Games, Azevedo also got her start in running. As a University of California, Davis, 100-meter hurdler, Azevedo held the school record at 14.23 seconds (it currently ranks second). Back then, it never crossed  her mind to swap her summer sport for a winter one.

"When I finished school in 2005, my track career was over. I wasn't physically 'there' to go further with it, so I had to figure out what to do next," says the 5'8", 170-pound California native. "While watching the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, I saw driver Shauna Rohbock and brakewoman Valerie Fleming win silver in bobsledding. Then I heard that Fleming had a similar background—she ran track at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That's when I thought, 'well, maybe this is something I could do,'" she says.

Switching playing fields wasn't new for Azevedo, who had already changed athletic careers once before. A competitive gymnast from age 3 to 16, Azevedo, now 30, once thought gymnastics might be her ticket to the world stage. "I've always had Olympic aspirations," she says. "I just didn't know bobsledding would fulfill it."

As exciting as it was to find a new way to reach her Olympic goals, Azevedo knew better than to hold her breath. "It was a big joke for a little while among my friends and family," says Azevedo, who admits to running around the house and pushing a pretend sled for laughs. Still a part of her took it seriously enough to look into what she needed to do to make it as a brakewoman, which is easier to pick up than the pilot position.

"It took a lot of courage. I was really nervous about putting myself out there. My younger sister, who was in high school at the time, asked me one day, 'Why wouldn't you try this?' I had about 10 excuses—it was going to be scary, expensive, difficult. She pulled out a $5 bill and said, 'I'm your first sponsor, go do it.' I obviously couldn't let my little sister down. So I tried out and the rest is history," she says.

At age 23, Azevedo debuted in the sport for the 2006-2007 season and has been competing as a brakewoman for the eight seasons since, making her one of the oldest and most experienced athletes on the U.S. Bobsledding Team. She's cut her college sprint distance in half, covering some 50 to 60 meters in 5.5 seconds while pushing a 400-pound sled with her teammate, the driver, at full speed. "My whole job is done in a matter of seconds. I think brakemen may have one of the shortest Olympic experiences," she says. Still, no matter how short it is, she wants her six seconds in Sochi.  —Cristina Goyanes