By the time Evelyn Stevens returned to consciousness, she was riding in an ambulance, surrounded by Italian-speaking medics, receiving medicine intravenously and missing all of her front teeth.
“You’re up in Italy, they’re speaking Italian, there’s an IV in your arm,” Stevens recalled, “and that’s the most terrifying part: You don’t know what’s going on.”
Her coach, Neal Henderson, was in the ambulance with her to explain what happened.
In her fourth season as a professional cyclist after leaving her job on Wall Street, Stevens had been in a horrific crash during a road race on March 16. Going 34 miles per hour through a roundabout, her bike made contact with the curb and sent her flying face-first into the pavement.
The only accessible image that can be found of the crash online shows Stevens with her legs tangled up in her bike, her left arm behind her, her right arm in front of her, and her face inches from the street. Marianne Vos, who won a gold medal in cycling at last year’s Olympic Games in London, is seen looking backward at Stevens from a few yards in front of the crash.
Stevens, an Acton-Boxborough Regional High graduate who turned 30 in May, soon arrived at a hospital, where doctors determined she had suffered a concussion, and she was released that night after getting 40 stitches.
“It was interesting to spend so much time without teeth,” she said. “To have your face deformed – you really don’t appreciate what you look like every day. I learned a lot from it.”
The fast-talking, bold-spirited Stevens is typically on top of everything. Passion and energy pour out of her; she has the ability to draw attention quickly and powerfully. She still can’t figure out why she took the roundabout so fast in that March race.
Ambitiously, she got too far ahead of herself. Turns out, that’s exactly where she likes to be.
“It’s very rare you find an athlete like Evelyn,” said Kristy Scrymgeour, owner of Specialized-lululemon, one of the top women’s biking teams in the world and led by Stevens. “She has physiological talent, but also a lot of fire in her belly. She races really hard every time. She’s not a survivor; she’s a real racer.
“She started cycling very late in her life. Technically and tactically she had a lot to learn. She was pretty much thrown in the deep end. She got good, very good, quickly and asked to join the team, but the racing is very hard’’ in Europe, Scrymgeour said, “aggressive, big bunches in small roads. She had to struggle through that.”
Scrymgeour was worried about how Stevens would recover from the crash.
“You subconsciously gain some fear,” Scrymgeour said. “That was a hard hit. Even crashing down and scraping some skin off, you lose a bit of fear there. You realize you can crash, and I’m fine.
“But she hit her head quite badly. And she was out for a while because when you hit your head like that it’s dangerous. That’s a shock to see yourself in that condition. Subconsciously that adds a little fear for most people. That takes a lot to come back from. There were a few moments where she said, ‘OK, I don’t know if I can come back from this.’ But it didn’t take her long.”
Stevens was back in competition in late April, for a stage race in the Czech Republic.
As Scrymgeour quickly learned, it’s going to take a lot to bring Stevens down from the sport that changed her life. While the buzzing, 5-foot-5 former tennis player at Dartmouth College can occasionally miss the comfort of her steady job in the finance industry — she hasn’t spent more than 10 days in one city this year — there is nothing that would send her back.
She has competed for the US Olympic team, won world-famous cycling races, earned sponsorships in a sport that doesn’t offer many to women, and formed an elite reputation as one of the best female cyclists alive. She’s still getting adjusted.
“It’s almost like you’re a car,” she said. “How do you keep it tuned correctly? Everything you do has an impact on how you perform, mentally and physically. The biggest difference in any athlete, in any field, is the mind. Mine is my biggest strength, and sometimes it’s my biggest weakness.”
Stevens’ mind can’t help but sometimes get lost looking ahead, past her cycling career, which she doesn’t want to last forever, and toward the next step.
First, she’s trying to do everything in her power to expand the sport while she’s part of it. Women’s cycling is still well behind men’s, particularly in the category of exposure. It is rarely seen on television, except for few races in Europe, Stevens says, and the lack of a Tour de France for women is disheartening.
There has been a big push to expand the sport’s biggest race to include females, though Scrymgeour questions whether it’ll happen anytime soon.
Stevens, though, won’t give up trying.
She’s also joined forces with Arlington High grad Julianne Idlet, the cycling coach at Harvard, in a program called CYCLE Kids, which began in Cambridge and Somerville as a way to provide bikes, helmets, and proper safety and nutrition knowledge to fourth- and fifth-grade students who may not otherwise have the resources.
The program now extends to more than 1,600 kids over four states. With her Olympic pedigree, Stevens has made a profound impact on the children.
“She wants to help,” Idlet said. “She’s really passionate about wanting to make a difference with kids. She sees what the program can do.
“She truly is a spirit that is rare and unique.”
Stevens first wants to get the best of Vos and the others in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when she’ll be 33 years old.
Eventually she’ll move on to a different job. She runs through all of her possibilities, the many ideas she’s been brainstorming.
By the end of the conversation it becomes clear: Evelyn Stevens has no idea where she’s going.
And she might not care.Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.