PT II — More With The Teen Motocrosser

ashley-fiolek

With her riding skills and a slew of wins, Ashley Fiolek is bringing women’s motocross racing out of the shadows and into the spotlight. At 18, she’s well on her way to changing the face and deepening the pockets of her growing sport.

The first woman to ever grace the cover of the industry-popular Transworld Motocross magazine, she’s won 13 Amateur Youth Championships, been featured in Rolling Stone, and was the 2004 America Motorcycle Association (AMA) Youth Motocrosser of the Year. She went on to win the overall title at the Women’s Motocross Association Championship in her rookie year, and became the first deaf person to win an American
Motocross Association National Championship.

In our last issue, we caught up with the rising star at a track in Lake Elsinore, CA, where she, her dad, and her mechanic, Cody Wolf, were visiting from Florida for a promotional Honda event. In this issue, ABILITY Magazine’s Chet Cooper, a wannabe motocrosser, continues his conversation with Team Ashley. They talk about how they take their show on the road, Ashley’s start as a motocrosser, and the moment her parents realized that their daughter was deaf.

Chet Cooper: So Ashley comes home from the hospital. How did you discover that she was born deaf?

Jim Fiolek: When Ashley was born, we had no idea that she was deaf. We found out two years later, when she wasn’t communicating. We were making a lot of noise, but got no reaction. And then we spoke with her doctor about having her tested. The doctor wanted to wait until she was two. Finally, her pediatrician tested her and said that she was spoiled, and that this was wrong and that was wrong, but never anything about her being deaf.

So we went home to Michigan for a couple of months and went to the university there. That’s when we found out that Ashley was profoundly deaf. They also said that she was a candidate for a cochlear implant, but we just preferred to learn sign language. We thought the cochlear implant would be her decision to make in the future.

CC: In the deaf community, of course, there’s controversy about whether to use the implant or not.

JF: Lucky for us, when Ashley was very young, my mom knew some people who were deaf who invited us into the deaf world. We learned then that the cochlear implant wasn’t something they wanted; it was what the rest of the world wanted for them. So we decided that this was the way she was given to us, and we would let her make that decision in the future.

CC: Ashley, have you thought about having a cochlear implant, now that you’re an adult?

Ashley Fiolek: No, I never wanted a cochlear implant. I was born deaf, and I love being deaf.

CC: Tell me about school?

JF: We wanted Ashley to be around more deaf people. Initially, she was in a school of 600, but only 24 of the students were deaf. So we started looking around the US, and said let’s go somewhere warm where Ashley who had started riding can ride all year. So we ended up in St. Augustine, FL, where she went to a school for the deaf for about five years.

CC: All the students were deaf?

JF: Yes.

CC: What did you think about the difference between public school and deaf school?

AF: In Michigan it was small, a few deaf people. I only had a few friends. But then I moved to Florida, and everyone (at the school) was deaf. So there were a lot of people, and I could talk with everybody. I didn’t have to worry about, “OK, he’s deaf and she’s hearing.”

CC: Your ex-boyfriend, the really mean one–

AF: (laughs)

CC: Did he sign before meeting you?

AF: No. I met him and he knew that I was deaf, but when we were dating I taught him how to sign. He learned. I can teach anybody.

You know what’s funny? I go to the podium and they want to hand me the mike, and I’m like…? But a lot of my friends who were shy at first, all sign now.

CC: Have you thought of a career in acting?

AF: (laughs) No.

CC: You should think about it. I’m sure at some point a producer is going to ask you to do something with motorcycle riding in a role.

AF: I just did a Honda commercial, and it was really a cool experience.

CC: I haven’t seen it yet. Is it airing? What did you do for the commercial?

JF: The commercial was about Monday morning and returning to work. The concept was: “What do you tell your buddies at the water cooler on Monday morning?” It had Ashley on a hill with her bike with a voiceover saying, “What would you pay to be awesome?” Then the commercial shows her riding.

CC: Do you ride?

JF: (to Ashley) Do I ride? (laughs) You might want to ask Cody, Ashley’s mechanic. I always ask him, “Can I ride one of the bikes?” and he says, “No.” I go, “Why not?” He says, “Because you’re gonna do two laps and you’re gonna cause me three hours worth of work.” And he’s right. I get about two laps in, and I’m worn out. It’s too dangerous for me.

We went riding with Travis Pastrana a couple years ago, and I ended up crashing. Actually, Ashley was crashing at the same time I was crashing, except she got up laughing at me, and I wasn’t laughing.

CC: You’ve got to wear the right stuff. How did you get your first bike?

JF: I grew up racing, motocross. When Ashley was three-and-a-half, we bought her her first bike. We had taken her to the races and she liked it, but she didn’t actually start riding until she was about seven. We lived in Michigan and we came to Florida on vacation, and she said, “Take my training wheels off, I’m gonna ride this thing.” We rode through the woods for hours. She had been riding with me and my wife on the front of our motorcycles through the woods since she was two years old. We would go for hours.

CC: She was collecting the bugs?

JF: Right. She was blocking for us. We would go for hours and then stop, and she’d want to keep going. I think that’s where she got a feel for motorcycles.

CC: Tell me about your racing career.

JF: It was OK. I wasn’t good enough to be a professional, but I was able to qualify and go to some of the amateur nationals.

CC: So you have a better appreciation than most of what she’s gone through to reach the level she’s achieved.

JF: I do have a good appreciation, but she’ll tell you I always want more. I’m always looking to get her to that next level.

CC: You’re a family and a team, and you’re already making history, breaking through the ceiling of what women have accomplished in the sport and with sponsorships. It’s one of those sports that has been so male-dominated.

CC: You’re a family and a team, and you’re already making history, breaking through the ceiling of what women have accomplished in the sport and with sponsorships. It’s one of those sports that has been so male-dominated.

She’s had a chance to change women’s experiences in motocross, with the help of a lot of other girls such as Steffi Laier, who was the champion for many years. They didn’t back down and say, “We’ll ride for a free pair of pants or goggles or something.” Instead, it was more like, “If we represent your company and we represent you the right way, you should pay us the way you do the boys.” That’s what they’ve been able to change.

CC: Getting an audience and drawing attention to the riding helps you connect to sponsorships… At one point, Ashley, when you broke your wrist, did you have a hard time signing?

AF: Not really. I didn’t hurt it that bad.

JF: The time she broke her wrist and her collarbone, that was bad, yes. Then she just used her mouth.

CC: Cody, when did you start signing?

Cody Wolf: I started learning to sign around December 2006, because I knew that in January 2007 I was going to be working with Ashley for the first time. So I just kind of did what I would say is the normal thing, went to a bookstore, got a sign language book, and then just started the process by learning the basic alphabets and numbers.

CC: On the road, how much of the time are you with Ashley, working on the bike?

CW: Any time there’s something riding-related, we’re together, unless I go for a vacation with family or something. But when Ashley’s riding, I’m there to help with any mechanical issues and to maintain the motorcycle.

CC: Did you know of each other before you started working together?

ashley-fiolek-2

CW: I met Ashley in Oklahoma in 2006. It was at the amateur nationals; she and her dad and her granddad were there. The friend that I came down there with was actually good friends with the Fiolek family, so we met each other on that trip and have been friends ever since.

CC: Are you hired through Ashley or through Honda?

CW: Through Ashley. She brought me with her when she went to Honda. I was very thankful for the opportunity.

CC: So you’ve upgraded, then, too? You’re now at a different level.

CW: Absolutely, yeah, with Ashley going to the factory team. That makes me her factory mechanic, working on factory motorcycles right there next to the other factory boys and the other factory mechanics. It’s a great privilege.

CC: Nice! Say thank you to Ashley!

CW: Yeah, I thank Ashley a lot. She knows it!

JF: Yeah, but you don’t say it enough to me! (laughs) We always pick on each other. It’s a brutal environment.

CW: Yeah, there have been one or two times when I’ve walked away crying. (laughs)

CC: It’s good to have a happy team.

CW: We’ve built a great relationship. We work well together. We travel together and try to help each other out when we can, whether it’s motorcycle-related or not.

CC: Do you ride at all?

CW: I rode up until the time that I started to work for Ashley. The summer that I met her, I fractured two vertebrae in my back. That’s when I realized I wasn’t ever going to make a career out of racing, and then I was blessed with this opportunity. So I was kind of like, I’m over it.

CC: Anything you can tell us about Ashley that we don’t know?

JF: She’s really just a goofy kid. She has a lot of friends, and we always have people at our home, staying (with us) if they’re training. They make videos like crazy. I don’t know if you know Sarah Whitmore. She’s a pro motocrosser who has won a lot of racing championships. She was with us for two or three weeks. We found this thing on YouTube, a video of those two having a pillow fight. Ashley’s just a goofy, goofy kid.

Ashley Fiolek

Articles in the Kristi Yamaguchi issue include DRLC — Seeking Global Human Rights: Headlines — The Accidental Advocate: Green Pages — Ready To Save Money?: Humor — You Don’t Know Jack!: Senator Harkin — Let’s Stop Workplace Abuses: Women’s Health — Give Your Ticker Some TLC: Ashley Fiolek Pt ii — More With The Teen Motocrosser: United Cerebral Palsy — My Child Without Limits: Scott Hamilton — On The Ice, In The Boardroom: Major League Baseball — Playing With A Disability: Sickle Cell Anemia — One Woman’s Story: Crossword Puzzle — Guess Your Best!: Events & Conferences; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…

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