ABILITY’s Chet Cooper, a pseudo-motocross rider, caught up with Ashley and her father while they were in California in 2009. A fierce competitor on the track, her persona off the trac—replete with an infectious smile and a lot of laughter—is equally engaging. Through her father, who served as her interpreter, Ashley talked 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!
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.
Chet Cooper: How does being deaf affect the sport for you?
Ashley 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: As you travel from country to country, what challenges do you face trying to communicate with people who sign in different languages?
Fiolek: When I first went to Europe, people didn’t approach me. They waved and stuff, but they were a little shy. They didn’t know how to communicate with me.
Cooper: A lot of people assume that sign language is a universal language, and they aren’t aware that it is as varied as spoken languages. Have you experienced different sign languages in the countries you visited?
Fiolek: When I travel, sometimes I meet deaf people and they try to talk to me. They don’t understand me and I don’t understand them. But it’s really cool that they have a different language.
Cooper: If you went to college, what would your major be?
Fiolek: I write a monthly column for TransWorld Motocross magazine. I enjoy writing, taking pictures, doing videos. That’s probably what I would study.
Cooper: Did TransWorld Motocross come to you or did you approach them about writing a column?
Fiolek: I’m good friends with Donn Maeda, the editor. He came to my house and interviewed me many years ago; we became very good friends. Over time he started an Internet column called “Ashley’s Sidekick.” That was years ago. After a while, he asked me to write in the magazine.
Cooper: I’ve read your columns, and you’re a great writer. We’d love for you to contribute to ABILITY Magazine!
Fiolek: That would be very cool. I would be very excited to be a part of that, for sure.
As they say, the rest is herstory.