By Julie Ann
If you’ve ever watched a sporting event when an athlete is being carted off the field after an injury, you can see the intense pain. It’s a rare and exceptionally determined athlete that would even consider getting up and going back in the competition. Ashley Fiolek is that rare athlete.
It was during the 2009 season finale that Ashley proved how hardcore she is as motocross racer. She was attempting to clinch her second Women’s Motocross Association championship. All she needed was to finish 11th or better and the championship, and all its glory, would be hers. Then the unthinkable happened. Ashley lost control of her bike and slammed into the ground – breaking her collarbone in two. Showing her fierce determination and competitive spirit, Ashley managed to ignore the pain, get back on her bike and ride to a seventh place finish. She couldn’t even hold her championship trophy because of her injury.
Ashley’s remarkable championship win shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who knows what she has already overcome in her 19 years. She has excelled in a dangerous sport winning race after race and has advanced gender equality in motocross. It’s a pretty impressive resume for a 19 year old, ut what makes Ashley’s story even more inspiring is that she was born profoundly deaf.
When Ashley was a toddler, her development wasn’t keeping pace and initial doctor visits misdiagnosed her as “mildly retarded.” When Ashley was three years old, her mom finally figured out that her daughter was deaf when a large clang failed to startle her. Because there is no hereditary deafness in her family, the doctor’s best guess was it was caused by in utero measles. The hospital suggested cochlear implants to help Ashley hear, but her parents decided that they wanted Ashley to make that decision for herself when she became old enough to understand. Ashley decided against the implants.
“I have never heard before and I have never felt like it is something I am missing,” Ashley said.
Ashley’s love of motorcycles developed naturally from watching her father and grandfather (aka Grandpa Motorcycle) ride. Ashley was riding through the Michigan woods well before her fourth birthday. She entered her first amateur race in 1998 and later that year her family decided to move to Florida so that Ashley could attend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind – and race even more on the active Florida motocross scene.
When Ashley was 10 years old she had her first major motocross accident at Daniel Boone raceway in Kentucky when she attempted a jump she wasn’t ready for. She was knocked out, broke her nose and smashed her two front teeth. For the first time in her short racing life, Ashley thought about giving up.
“I tried to find other things that interested me but I feel that God gave me a talent to ride a dirt bike and he kept pulling me that in that direction,” Ashley said.
Her God-given talent continued to develop as she competed through the amateur motocross ranks, winning race after race and perfecting her skill as a deaf rider. Since Ashley cannot hear the sounds of her bike she must rely on vibrations to know when to shift. She watches for the shadows of approaching competitors because she cannot hear them coming up behind her. She must also rely heavily on her weekly practice and training. She sees her deafness as both an advantage and disadvantage over other riders.
“I can’t hear when other riders are behind me so I don’t really stress out about it, but at the same time I have to hold my lines out on the race track until I’m sure no one is behind me,” Ashley said. “I sometimes hit neutral because I can’t hear and I have flipped over the handle bars.” She also says that not being able to hear “smack talk” from her fellow competitors is a definite advantage.
Ashley turned pro in 2007 and continued to enjoy the success that she experienced in the amateur circuit. She won the Women’s Motocross Association championship in 2008 and again in 2009. Ashley also has two X-Games gold medals to her name, winning in 2009 and 2010.
Faith has always played a big role in Ashley’s life. Because of her high-risk career choice, Ashley must rely on God’s strength for confidence and safety on the race track. She has a Bible promise book that she reads before each race. She says that the verse she turns to most often is Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive, whatever you ask for in prayer.” Ashley and her family each sign a prayer before each race.
Off the track, Ashley is glad to reach out to fellow riders and fans in faith and include them in her prayers. Ashley uses texting, tweeting and other social media outlets to communicate with her ever-growing fan base.
“[I’m] definitely happy to be deaf in this time!” Ashley said. “I can do just about anything with computer technology. I can talk to people all over the world with texting and let everyone know what I am doing and [know] what they are doing with tweeting.”
Ashley has also worked hard for gender equality in motocross. A largely male dominated sport, women riders don’t always receive equal track time, television coverage and even earn smaller salaries. Ashley made a huge step for women’s equality after she won her first championship by becoming the first female rider to be featured on the cover of Transworld motocross magazine and the first women to ever be invited to join a factory team. As a factory rider, Honda essentially became Ashley’s sponsor – paying her way to races, as well as providing and performing maintenance on her bike.
It’s clear that Ashley will let nothing stand in her way – not a “disability” or physical obstacles, not excruciating pain and injury and most certainly not a bunch of naysayers telling her that she can’t. Ashley knows that with God all things are possible and nothing can hold her back.
By Julie Ann