A Concussion Tests Her Ability

I just wrapped up my last season racing the WMX (Women’s Motocross) Outdoor National series. We had eight rounds of racing and our last race of the season was held at a track in Lake Elsinore, CA. At the beginning of the year, I announced that this would be my last season racing in this particular series, so I wanted to go out with a bang.

The first couple of rounds were going well. I wasn’t leading in the points, but I was very close to my toughest competitor, Jessica Patterson. We had gone back and forth in the first races and she was now just a mere three points ahead of me. At the beginning of a series, this is not a bad place to be.

Previously, at round three in Colorado, things had gotten a little “rough” for me. I was riding well and having a good time, but in the second moto, the track was sketched out. I was coming over a big jump and I’m not exactly sure what happened, but everyone told me I “cross rutted” [when each wheel of the bike is in a different rut in the track, putting the bike in an awkward and askew position] when I came down and I was thrown to the ground, hard. I have had a few concussions since last year and when I crashed it seems I had another one. I don’t even remember what happened; I was dazed, but I got up and continued to ride. Everyone noticed that I was not myself, but I kept powering on. I wound up finishing in an overall position of sixth place, but I don’t even know how that happened. I was still down 16 points in the series, and things were not looking good for me.

I was taken to the medic and I was out of it. I hurt all over and I couldn’t remember where I was or what had happened. They gave me oxygen and did tests on me. After that I went back to my hotel, but later in the evening I was brought to the hospital because it seemed as though I was getting worse. I had to delay my flight home for one day because the doctors did not want me to fly.

Round four was to be held in Mount Morris, PA, at a track called High Point Raceway, but before I could get back into the race, I had to take another concussion test. Before the season starts, each rider takes a pre-concussion test, which is basically a baseline so doctors know at what level your brain is functioning. There are no right or wrong answers; they just want to know if something is wrong after you’ve had a bad crash or a concussion. So I had to retake my test to see if I was ready to race again, but I kept failing. I was so upset that I couldn’t ride or work out or do anything until I passed this
test.

ashley-fiolek

On the Friday before the race, I took the test again. I was feeling better and my memory was coming back, so I assumed all would be well. I took the test in the morning and then flew out to the track. On Saturday morning, the medics and doctors looked at my results and said that I would not be allowed to ride. I couldn’t believe this was happening! It was to be my last year, and I wanted to win this championship one more time, but my chances didn’t look good. Instead, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch my fellow racers take off from the start. I was so angry, so upset with myself and with everyone. After leaving High Point, I was halfway through the series, in fifth place over all, and 63 points behind Jessica Patterson. The championship was slipping through my fingers.

Before the doctors would even consider letting me race, I had more medical tests ahead of me. I had to see two different neurologists who ordered more complex tests than the ones I had already taken. Since I was in such a rush to get back to the race, and prepare for the X Games, I decided to test for over six hours in one day. I also had to do some physical testing. My results were good, but my symptoms were lingering; I still couldn’t remember a lot of things. I was also nauseous and I couldn’t eat. The doctors told me I would have to miss the X Games. So far, 2012 had been a very disappointing year for me.

The next race of the outdoor series was to be held in Red Bud, MI, at one of my fave tracks in my home state of Michigan. I look forward to this event every year, but would I be able to race? I was nervous about passing the pre-concussion test. On a Friday, the medics tested me again and told me I was cleared to ride. Finally, the week before the race started, I was on my bike again. My practice mechanic, Brian, drove my bike up to Michigan where I practiced on some of my favorite local tracks. I was so happy. I showed up to race on Saturday morning and it looked as though Jessica was a bit off in practice, riding slower than normal and not doing all of the jumps. I heard from someone that she was riding with a broken hand. I wound up winning both motos at Red Bud and now I was back in the game. I moved up to third place, which left me only 26 points behind first place.

My next race was in Washougal, WA. I knew Jessica was doing better since she’d had a plate put in her hand. Jessica, Tarah and I all battled, but I was riding well and feeing good. I again won both motos. The championship was within sight once again—all was not lost. I was now 11 points away from first place.

Round seven was held in Southwick, MA, at Moto-X 338, a track that always worries me. It is sandy, rough and rutted. This track would make or break the week for me. I needed to win both motos, which was something I had never done before at this track. My good friends, Travis and Lyn-z Pastrana, came to help cheer me on. I was so glad to have them there because they helped to calm me down. I was nervous, but I knew that I would try my best and give it my all. When the racing was over on Saturday night, I walked out of Southwick with two more wins. I was now in second place, with only five points between Jessica and I.

Heading into the last round at Lake Elsinore, CA, I didn’t try to figure out ahead of time the point situation, I just knew I wanted to win both motos. Jessica, Tarah and I were all within five points of each other and we each had a shot at the championship. We were each going for it.

That day, practice felt good and I jumped this huge, 110-foot double, so I was pumped. I had the fastest qualifying time, so I was ready to race. I got the holeshot [the rider who is the first one through the first turn] and was off in the first moto. The world champion from Italy was there and she won the moto, while I came in second. I knew her points would not affect ours because she hadn’t raced here before, and I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake so I happily took second place. Jessica had hurt her ankle earlier in the week, so she held on to fourth place. Everyone rushed up to me after the moto and told me I was only one point behind. Oh my, to be 63 points down at one time and now be only one point behind—I could do this! If I finished in front of Jessica, I would win the 2012 WMX championship.

I was nervous on the second moto, but I also wanted to be done. It had been a long season and it was time to wrap it up. I got the holeshot again and then the Italian girl passed me. I was riding cautiously, because I knew how important this race was. I stayed in second place for most of the race, and then my mechanic wrote on the pit board that Jessica had pulled off the track. She’d landed hard on one of the jumps and tweaked her sore ankle, so she couldn’t finish the race. I couldn’t believe it. I was down to one lap. I let third place pass me and I was just taking it slow. I knew it was over.

At the finish line, I threw my bike down and went to hug one of my fellow riders. I then rode over to the podium slowly, and my dad and little brother ran over to hug me. I saw my mom and all of my friends and fans. What a great ending to a crazy season!

Ashley Fiolek

Articles in the Joe Mantegna Issue; Senator Harkin — US Budget Must Reflect Our Values; Ashley Fiolek — A Concussion Tests Her Ability; Humor — All in the Family; Web Widget — Accessibility Works; Chinese Art — Raw Beauty of the Innocents; Geri’s — Survivor Guide; Golf Pro — One Arm, Limitless Possibilities; Road Trip — MS Changes a Biker’s Course; Charlie Kimball — Racing Against Diabetes; Joe Mantegna — When Life Flips the Script; Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson — Crusader For Autism; DRLC — Beware Genetic Discrimination; Betsy Valnes — Connect the Dots in Disability Circles; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; CRPD — Information and Communication Technologies; Events and Conferences…

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