PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The last time Tracy Evans attempted a triple off an aerial kicker, she was wearing a Team USA uniform in her adopted hometown of Park City.
But while the New York native left competitive Olympic sports 17 years ago, the values she learned representing her country in three Winter Games have never left her.
“Of course I wanted to win a medal,” Evans said after being honored as an Olympian For Life by the World Olympians Association for her humanitarian work to bring gender equity to communities impacted by genocide through the nonprofit she started in 2008 — Kids Play International. “That’s an amazing accomplishment, and it’s what we all work for. But at the same time, what do you do afterward? How do you make your experience transfer into life? How do you use the Olympic values and what sport gave you out in the world?”
Evans was honored in a ceremony Saturday afternoon in the mountain town of Alpensia where ski jumping, cross-country skiing and the sliding sports are being hosted.
In a short ceremony, which included International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, five former Olympians were honored for their efforts to make the world a better place through Olympic values, like excellence and fair play.
“You come from all kinds of backgrounds and nationalities,” said Ana Jelusic, a World Cup Alpine racer from Croatia, who was representing the International Olympic Committee. “You live and breathe for the same thing. But, when the lights go off, and your Olympic career is over, you really… give back to those who come after you. Some athletes will go back and bring peace to the world, some will fight for gender equality, or some others will just work with disadvantaged people and bring the beauty of sports to young kids. … What is important is they all draw on their Olympic experience to make the world a better place.”
In addition to Evans, who lives in Park City with her husband, Mike Land, those honored were: Manuela DiCenta, a cross country athlete from Italy, Chiharu Igaya, an alpine skier from Japan, Devon Harris, a bobsleigh athlete from Jamaica, and Johann Koss, a speedskating athlete from Norway. The group began recognizing athletes committed to humanitarian efforts at the Rio Olympics in 2016 by creating the Olympian For Life program.
Evans said she found out about the honor just before Christmas and couldn’t believe it was real.
“I, honestly, I wasn’t sure if there was a Candid Camera somewhere,” she said, laughing. “I was, obviously, extremely humbled and grateful. It might be recognition for my vision and my passion, but it seriously does take a village to make an impact, and those 13 Kids Play coaches, they’re really implementing the change in that village.”
Kids Play International uses sports programs coupled with school efforts to bring awareness to gender equity issues in communities that have experienced genocide. She recently took a group of athletes, including 2018 Olympians Faye Gulini and Nick Goepper, to Rwanda where they hosted an Olympic Day celebration, as well as participating in community service projects, like rebuilding the home of a woman widowed by the ethnic slaughter of nearly a million people in 1994.
Evans said since the places the programs has been implemented have already seen changes.
“We are seeing shifts in harmful gender social norms, and just getting people to see things like girls need to stay in school,” she said, “the importance of girls having the same opportunities that boys have, and just understanding that with those same opportunities, they’re capable of achieving great things.
"This is really a great tribute to Kids Play, and I’m happy to be the conduit. That’s what is so amazing about being an Olympian, being a catalyst to create social change, which is amazing.”
Evans brought Kids Play coaches to Park City for training, and she’s taken athletes to Rwanda to serve those communities trying to rebuild and recover from traumatic incidents.
Evans acknowledges that no movement is perfect, and the Olympics have had their struggles with corruption and doping issues. But the athletes' efforts are pure, and the way sports transforms lives is real, and that’s what those who champion Olympic values focus on as they continue to spread a message of sport as an instrument of personal and social change long after the medals are won or lost.
“In terms of what Olympism stands for, you have to get down to basics,” she said. “It’s very simple, it’s very impactful what sports can do in interacting with one and other. Just getting out and kicking a ball around, how that builds relationships. … It’s not a perfect world, and it will never be a perfect world, but it’s about your choices and what you do with your opportunities. … Those values have made a difference in my life, and that’s what I’m sharing.”
Evans said all success comes from individual effort and the support of many people. And she said focusing on excellence, friendship and fair play, which are the values championed by the Olympic movement, can transform individuals and communities.
“I believe if you’re willing to work for what you want to achieve, that deeper meaning can impact your life,” she said. “It really does make a difference.”