The Wind Beneath Her Wheels

Lately everyone has been asking me the same questions over and over, so I thought I would bring them up in this column, in case ABILITY readers are wondering the same things.

I keep getting asked about my bike set up, because I’m smaller than the average rider. People want to know how I communicate with my hearing mechanic. And they also want to know who interprets, if my parents aren’t traveling with me.

Well my bike setup is a little different than those of the guy riders. When American Honda first hired me, they changed my bike around and lowered everything— before I even tested with them. Ricky Carmichael, who used to ride for Honda, and is a retired top MX racer, was also pretty small by moto-racer standards. That’s why Honda started me off with all his old setups.

After I rode for them the first time, they lowered the frame even more. My seat is also cut out some to make it shorter, so my feet can actually touch the ground. The team also changed my pegs to make it easier for me to ride. I like to use hand guards to protect my hands from rocks, because, hey, my hands are the only way I can talk!

Hand guards help keep my hands warmer during cold riding conditions, and dryer when it’s muddy out. To set up my suspension for how I ride, and for how light I am, I do a lot of testing before my outdoor season starts. You can’t just jump on a bike and expect it to be ready to go. Someone as small as I am needs lots of different setups for suspension and tires and how my engine runs.

So, onto the next question about how my mechanic and I communicate, since he doesn’t know sign language. Well, because Toshi is Japanese and has an accent, a lot of hearing people have a challenge understanding him. But he and I are actually pretty good at communicating.

He knows my bike inside and out, and I know how I want and need it to feel. In that way, we are mostly on the same page.

We use a lot of gestures, or he will show me different parts on the bike, and we’ll try and figure out how I need it set up. I have been working with him for a couple of years now, and we’ve really gotten in tune with each other. If I go out to practice, and something doesn’t feel right, the two of us will figure it out together and get the job done.

When I’m racing, Toshi takes me to the line, and helps me get ready for the start of the race. As the gate drops, he goes into the mechanics area and uses a pit board to help me while the race is going on. If I’m in the lead (like I hope to be!), he will let me know how many seconds I am in front…. If I’m not in the lead, he will tell me how many seconds I’m behind. As it starts getting towards the end of the race, he will let me know how many more laps I have left. I would be lost without Toshi; he’s a great mechanic and I’m lucky to have him on my team.

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This year I’ve been traveling to races without my mom and dad. I’m 20 now, and I just wanted to start doing things on my own a little. Mom and dad have been great, and I would never have gotten as far as I have without them, but I wanted to see if I could do this by myself. Ok, not totally by myself. My best friend, Brittany, travels with me to the races, and really helps me out a lot. She can sign and she has started to learn the drill of how everything works at the races. She’s helped me do interviews and podium speeches. We’ve had to rent cars, book hotels and flag down taxis. It’s been fun and a little scary too. I’m lucky to have her as a part of team 67.

Articles in the Katie Leclerc Issue; Humor — Jockey: A Horse Tale (Pt. 2); Ashley Fiolek — The Wind Beneath Her Wheels; Sen. Tom Harkin — A Call to Employers; Lasik Surgery — The Eyes Have It; Funny Business — Sue Z. Hart and the Art of Laughter; Water skiing — Mama Does It Barefoot; Paralympic Sailing — Harnessing the Wind; Mercy Ships — Healers on the High Seas; Katie Leclerc — ABC Family Star on Ménière’s Disease; Silver Scorpion — New Breed of Superhero; Ra’Shad Solomon — Model of Persistence; Eating Local — A Four Seasons’ Palette; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…

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