Chico Olympian adjusts to her newfound celebrity

Olympian Emily Azevedo is getting used to being thanked by strangers. Now back in Chico, she’s approached often by folks wanting to congratulate her for her achievements.

Olympian Emily Azevedo is getting used to being thanked by strangers. Now back in Chico, she’s approached often by folks wanting to congratulate her for her achievements.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado

Emily Azevedo had done maybe five interviews prior to last September, when she was preparing to leave Chico for Lake Placid, N.Y., to pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic bobsledder.

Azevedo, as we know, did make the U. S. Olympic bobsled team. She and teammate Bree Schaaf—both participating in their first Olympics—led the USA III sled in February’s Winter Games to fifth place out of 21 sleds.

And Azevedo, who has made the United States’ World Cup bobsled team four years running since 2006, has done a whole lot more interviews—about 40, by her estimation—since becoming an Olympian.

“You go through the media line after you slide, and there’s all these people—[such as] AP people, USA Today,” said the pretty, brown-haired 26-year-old. “Every day I slid or trained I had an interview.

“The weird ones are the ones when they try to throw you off your game and ask you questions that aren’t in the regular repertoire,” offered Azevedo—like one radio station interviewer who asked her questions about her underwear (after Scottish bobsledder Gillian Cooke accidentally split open the back of her pants at the start of a run during the World Championships in January).

The former Chico High and UC Davis track star sipped a warm, chocolaty drink called a Godiva at an outdoor table at Bidwell Perk on her fifth day of being back home from Vancouver as she chatted—and graciously stood up to acknowledge the many passersby who recognized her and wanted to offer their congratulations.

“It’s the famous woman!” exclaimed an older couple who stopped at Azevedo’s table on the way to their car. “We watched you on TV!”

After being thanked by the pair, and finding that she had graduated from Chico High School with their grandson, Azevedo sat back down, and said in a slightly hushed voice, “I didn’t expect it—all this publicity.

“That’s been happening all the time [since I’ve been back in Chico]—people thank me,” she continued. “Someone came to the airport the other day when I came in and just said, ‘Thank you very much.’ … It’s like if I were…working at Bidwell Perk forever and ever making coffee and one day people started saying, ‘Thank you.’ Like you’ve been making great coffee every day, and one day people start applauding and saying, ‘Thank you very much.’

“When I first went to the post office the other day after I got back [from Vancouver],” she continued, “and I thought I was just going to the post office, all of a sudden people were turning and staring and saying, ‘Congratulations!’”

Azevedo—who is the first Chicoan ever to take part in the Winter Olympics—is getting used to her new fame, though.

“When you’re a child and you watch the Olympics, you’re awestruck when they win medals,” she said. “At the Olympics, I watched my friends win medals. It was just normal—those are my friends. … But don’t get me wrong, I’ll gladly accept the responsibility of being an inspiration for Chicoans.”

Since she’s been home, Azevedo has been checking in with folks at her former stomping grounds—such as visiting gymnastics students at Athletic Horizons, where she studied gymnastics as a child, and stopping by Chico High to say hi to her former teachers.

As for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Azevedo is going to take it one step at a time, focusing on training for the upcoming World Cup season, which begins in October.

“It’s like the 400-meter hurdles race I used to do at college,” she explained. “If I thought, ‘My gosh, I have to jump over 10 hurdles as fast as I can for 400 meters,’ it’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be long. But if you think of it one hurdle at a time…”

“Are you Emily Azevedo?” asked a woman walking past her table. “Thank you! We’re so proud of you!”

“See?” said Azevedo. “She said, ‘Thank you!’”