Every now and again, someone comes along in a sport and in life who is a game changer. There have been several notable game changers throughout history; some were intentional and others were not. The accidental heroes sometimes inspire more than the ones who set out to change the world.
The game changers in sport have encompassed many things, including race, ability and even disability. Each one of these athletes has had to work exceptionally hard to excel at their given sport, and often times have had to overcome a perceived disability. These are the tales that we, as a society, find the most inspiring. For those of us who aren’t role models, it is hard to understand how it happens. After all, nobody is born a role model; it is something that develops through actions, intentional or otherwise. Ashley Fiolek is one of those inspirational figures. Born profoundly deaf, Fiolek has evolved into the ultimate role model for almost anyone and should not be limited to the moto world.
Although, like any good role model, Fiolek didn’t ever set out to inspire anyone. “I don’t think it can be your goal to be a role model,” said Fiolek. “It is just something that happens! I guess when little girls would come up to me and tell me that I am their role model and that they look up to me is when I realized it.”It can be a heavy undertaking for someone of any age, but it can be an even heavier task for someone as young as Fiolek; however, this does not bother the 20-year-old Florida native. When asked if the pressure ever gets to her, she said, “No, not really. I guess it is just all part of the job, it is a good feeling and it motivates me to do my best!” Fiolek has a simple plan to continue to live up to the role model title that she has earned: “I think by always trying to set a good example and taking time for the fans that want to talk to me or sign autographs, etcetera.”Becoming a champion is a challenge and the optimal goal of anyone when they begin to compete at a high level in any sport.
This goal is something that Fiolek has already achieved twice in her young career, and proved that American Honda made the right choice when they originally signed her as the first women to be contracted to a factory team. When she talks about being part of the team, you can see how much she appreciates the honour. “I was pretty excited! I had always dreamed about it but I didn't actually think it would happen, it was a pretty important thing for girl racers,” said Fiolek. “This will be my third year with Honda so I am pretty comfortable with everybody and it is nice to know I am still on the same team!”For many people, deafness would be considered a disadvantage, but for someone as unique as Fiolek it has become an advantage. When others are being tricked by what they hear, she can focus on what the bike is actually doing when she is riding it. Fiolek states, “I definitely think I am in tune with my bike, I know whenever there is even a small thing wrong with it. I think in some ways it is definitely an advantage in some ways like not hearing other riders behind me or hearing negative thoughts, etcetera. But there are also disadvantages, like hitting the wrong gear, or not being able to change lines.”Fiolek is not just a motocross racer; she is also an author and has already published her first book. To anyone who has never attempted to write a book, it may seem like it should not be a large undertaking, but it definitely is. Many aspiring authors struggle for years to get that first book completed and even fewer actually get to experience the thrill of seeing their work published. This is just another in the list of major accomplishments that Fiolek has been racking up. The idea for the book may not have been hers but the story is all hers. “A writer approached me,” she explained, “She had done an interview with me and was really interested in my story. She asked me if we could work together to write the book.
Even though she was up to the challenge, Fiolek still found writing the book to be a difficult feat and mentioned, “It was definitely a lot harder than I thought it would be, the writer worked with me and my mom for over a year and we had to do a lot of rewrites, etcetera. It was hard work but I think it was worth it. Maybe I will write another one when I retire!”As much fun as it was for Fiolek to write the book, she doesn’t really see herself as being an author when her racing career is over. When asked if that could be a possible career path and whether being an author is in her future, she said, “Probably not – it is a lot of work – but maybe for a motocross magazine or something like that, writing articles isn’t as intense as a book!”The idea behind the book is to inspire people with what she has accomplished in her life and the challenges that she has had to overcome. “Well it is a motivational story, I hope!” said Fiolek. “It is about my life so far and different experiences that I have had on and off my dirt bike. People just tell me when they read it that the story inspires them to go out and do things!”As difficult as writing a book can be, Fiolek relished the experience, “I really enjoyed the experience and I was happy with how everything turned out!” But she would change one thing, “I wish there was more colour pictures; us moto kids like to look at pictures.
To me, one of Ashley’s biggest accomplishments is the Courage in Sport award that she won in the fall of 2010. This award is given to people who have excelled in a sport despite great physical challenges. This award has been given out to some of the most influential athletes, including Mohammad Ali and Lance Armstrong. For Ashley, it was another day, “They came to my house and we did a whole bunch of filming and my spot was on during the show with four other people, I was pretty impressed with the whole thing and it was quite an honour.”Even though she had a feature spot on CBS during the ceremony, when asked what her most memorable accomplishment was, she said, “Probably my first WMX championship. I was pretty pumped that I won! Also my first year competing at X games was pretty exciting too!”There is an almost endless supply of videos and articles on the internet about this amazing young woman who continues to inspire a whole host of people. Her reach has surpassed the bounds of the MX world and has hit the mainstream media, not something that is easily done by the average MXer. For more information on Ashley, you can visit her website at www.ashleyfiolek.com or, better yet, pick up her book, Kicking Up Dirt.
Photo's Courtesy: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool