On July 31, Ashley Fiolek of St. Augustine, Florida, won the women's Moto X Super X in her X Games debut in Los Angeles, becoming the X Games' first deaf medalist, and the youngest-ever Women's Motocross Associsation champion.
Motocross—racing lightweight motorcycles through, around, and over various obstacles, including ditches, hills, and large gaps—might seem like an unlikely sport for a deaf racer, but Fiolek has managed to not only compete successfull against hearing women, but to win most of the races she's entered since turning professional two years ago. What might seem major disadvantages—the inability to hear other riders coming up from behind, for example—she's turned to advantages. "I don't hear anybody behind me. I don't freak out."
She's attuned to the vibrations of the engine to know when to shift. She also has to hold her line longer than the others, so as not to cut off a rival who's charging from behind. Sometimes she takes a peek behind her to see who's coming up.
Ashley's father, Jim, raced motorcycles in his youth, and she grew up riding and racing dirt bikes, winning a national championship when she was 13. Jim and his wife, Roni, dscovered that she was deaf when she was 2-1/2. They made a crucial decision not to shield her, but to let her participate in whatever vigorous activities she wanted—including waterskiing and track and field. Roni told writer Don Norcross, "Some parents of deaf kids thought we were crazy. We wanted her to do what she wanted to do, be who she wanted to be.
She uses sign language as her primary means of communication, has a circle of friends who have learned to sign and who keep in contact online.
Since entering WMA competitions, she's done exceptionally well. She's gotten corporate sponsorships and a variety of endorsements, becoming the first American woman to be sponsored by a major factory. She's been getting publicity and giaining visibility for the WMA—which has tended to get a mere fraction of the recognition enjoyed by men's motocross.
Her great ambition is to race professionally against men. And she'll likely find a way to do that, too.
(Photo credits: mini-tile and flashbox: Simon Cudby/Red Bull Photofiles; above photo; Garth Milan/Red Bull Photofiles.com)