Because she’s deaf…she never heard people tell her it was impossible,” said Jim Fiolek as he stood alongside the motocross track in Lake Elsinore, CA, watching his daughter, Ashley, ride. And yet, something tells us that it wouldn’t have slowed her down even if she had heard.
By the age of 17, Ashley had already won 13 Amateur Youth Championships, been featured in Rolling Stone and the New York Times, and was the 2004 America Motorcycle Association (AMA) Youth Motocrosser of the Year. Impressing even industry veterans, Ashley raised her own bar when she won the overall title at the Women’s Motocross Association Championship in her rookie year. She also became the first deaf person to win an American Motocross Association National Championship.
Nicknamed Rude Pea—“because I never ride like a sweet pea”—Ashley is bringing women’s motocross racing out of the shadows of a traditionally male-dominated sport. As the first woman ever to grace the cover of the industry’s popular TransWorld Motocross magazine, she has her sights set on changing the face of women’s motocross by establishing the expectation that sponsors treat her with the same professionalism as her male peers. She’s gotten their attention.
ABILITY’s Chet Cooper, a pseudo-motocross rider, recently caught up with Ashley and her father while the two were in California testing her new Honda. A fierce competitor on the track, her persona off the track—replete with an infectious smile and a lot of laughter—is equally engaging. Through her father, who served as her interpreter, Ashley talks about the pros and cons of being a young rider and deaf athlete, about her education, and about whom she really wants to beat on the track!
Chet Cooper: You’ve become a huge name in motocross in a relatively short period. How long have you been riding?
Ashley Fiolek: Almost 11 years now. It’s been a long time.
Cooper: And you’re 12 now?
Fiolek:(laughter) I just turned 18.
Cooper: I’m an amateur, as evident by my bandages, (Ashley shows off a few of her war wounds, too) but I do follow the sport a bit. Congratulations on your new relationship with Honda!
Fiolek: Thanks! It’s very cool. I’m now part of the Honda Red Bull Racing team—the first girl to be on a factory team. It’s really awesome to have an opportunity to win more championships with them. It’s so important for girls to know that you can dream about something and, if you’re willing to work hard, your dreams can come true, just like mine did.
Cooper: How does being deaf affect the sport for you?
Fiolek: I don’t think that because I’m deaf I only have disadvantages. There are certainly advantages, too. If people are behind me, it doesn’t bother me. There’s no pressure from hearing their bikes, although I can see their shadows. The disadvantage is having to hold my line. I don’t want to switch lines abruptly because I’ll take somebody out. It all evens out.
Cooper: I can see how it would work both ways. How it can be a little bit of a disadvantage to keep your line, because you’d have to frequently turn to see if someone’s right behind you.
(Ashley’s dad takes a brief respite from interpreting to join in the conversation.)
Jim Fiolek: She watches the shadows on the track, or Cody, her mechanic, will tell her where they are.
Cooper: At what point in your career did you say, “I think this is something I’m actually good at and I need to give it my full attention?”
Fiolek: As soon as I started riding, I liked it. In 2004, I trained really hard and won the Loretta Lynn (Amateur National Motocross Championships). From then on, I knew I loved motocross and wanted to change some things in my life so I could really focus on it. I wanted to be a professional motocrosser, the best woman in the world. So my mom and dad helped me. I started to be homeschooled because I traveled a lot. Now I have a career doing what I love. It started a long time ago, in 2004.
Cooper: A long time ago?
Jim Fiolek: (laughs) A long, long time ago, 2004.
Cooper: It really is all relative! As far as I can remember, there aren’t that many great motocross tracks in Florida. Have you thought about moving to California?
Fiolek: Yeah. I would like to move here. Everything in motocross happens here, but there are a lot of distractions here as well. Maybe in the future. For now we come here and do what we need to do and then leave.
Cooper: So where do you practice?
Fiolek: Florida tracks have a lot of sand but no hills. You can get bored. I like to go to a lot of different tracks and experience different dirt, different elevations. I like to come here to California. I also ride a lot in Georgia. We go all over the US to try to get different experiences.
Jim Fiolek: I think if you spend too much time on the same track, you start to feel really good about yourself. You can get used to that track and become over confident. So we’ve always tried to keep Ashley on the move and keep her practices short so she doesn’t get used to a single track.
Cooper: There was a merge between you speaking as Ashley and you speaking for yourself. I almost missed it!
Jim Fiolek: (laughs) Yeah… (signing to Ashley) There was a merge between you finishing your sentence and then me wanting to add something more.
Cooper: Ashley, your father said you signed “I’m the best in the world and I always will be,” which was quickly followed up with “and I won’t date until I’m 35!”
Fiolek: What!? (laughs)
Jim Fiolek: I’m trying to keep it that way….
Articles in the Miss International issue include Senator Harkin — The Christopher Reeve Act; Day of Service — Of Kings & Presidents; Green Pages — Don’t Let Money Fly Out the Window; Humor — There’s Nothing Out there; Film Circuit— Reeling Through Sundance; Skiing — A Crash Course; Multiple Sclerosis — One Day At The Beach; Secret Life — Young Actors Get Their Due; George Covington — Don’t Look Now, Bambi’s Back; Christopher Reeve — His Foundation; His Champions.