By Matthew Miles

SHLEY FlOLEK WANTS TO CONQUER the world—the FIM Women's Motocross World Championship. The 19-year-old Michigan native and factory Honda Red Bull rider is also out this season to add a third AM A Pro Women's Motocross Championship and maybe even another X Games Moto X gold medal to her already crowded trophy collection. Qualifying for a round of the AMA Pro Motocross Championship—the men's 250cc outdoor series—is on her to-do list, as well.

Who is this barrier-smashing teen? Actually, Fiolek's story parallels that of many professional male racers. She began riding at VA years old on a Yamaha PW50, spurred on by the enthusiasm for the sport shared by her family— grandfather, father and mother.

"Jim and I grew up trail-riding in Michigan," said Fiolek's mother, Roni. "So riding is in Ashley's blood. As soon as she could ride on her own, it was non-stop. We took her to a Supercross race [at the Pontiac Silverdome], and she was hooked. We thought, 'Cool. Ashley likes riding, too.' But she took it to another level."

Fiolek entered her first race—the annual "Spring Fling" at Log Road in Coldwater, Michigan—at age 7. Pitted against 11 other riders in the pee-wee race, she finished fourth, good enough for a trophy. "This was my first taste of winning, and I liked it," Fiolek wrote in her just-published autobiography. Kicking Up Dirt. "I think that's when my parents realized that I wasn't kidding around when I said I wanted to race."

Here's where Fiolek's story takes a sharp turn: She didn't verbalize her feelings to her parents; she signed them—as in American Sign Language.

Fiolek is deaf.

"It took so long to find out that Ashley was deaf," recalled Roni. "We were told so many things—that she was retarded, for example. We were really frustrated. Once we found out that she was deaf, it was like, 'Oh, thank goodness.'"

Neither Fiolek nor her parents consider deafness a handicap. "Jim and I cringe when people say 'hearing impaired,'" said Roni. "She's deaf. She's not ashamed of it. Her struggles have been more of a girl in a man's sport than being deaf. Nobody held her back because she was deaf."

Shortly after Fiolek's race debut, her family moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where she enrolled in the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind—the largest school of its kind in this country.

Train hard, race to win: On the bike, Fiolek works with ex-racer Ron Tichener. Off the bike, she trains with Robb Beams from Moto Endurance. "Ashley wants to be at another level," said Fiolek's mother, Roni.

Everything the Fioleks had read indicated that deaf children should be immersed in deaf culture. But no one at the school understood or related to Fiolek's racing, so she began to make more hearing friends. Eventually, she drifted away from the deaf community.

More problematical, because her


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Dad counsels daughter: Fiolek's father, Jim, has always believed that girls can ride motorcycles just as well as boys. "Factory girl" was an idea he drummed up long before Fiolek was approached by American Honda.

family was frequently on the road traveling to races, Fiolek missed a lot of school. "When Ashley was halfway through ninth grade, I got called into the principal's office," said Roni. "With a state school, you have to follow the state's rules. You're only allowed so many absences, and it just wasn't going to work. So we began home schooling."

While she was in deaf school, Fiolek was a good student. She was motivated and tested well. Grammar wasn't a high priority because Fiolek and her fellow classmates "spoke" ASL, which doesn't use smaller parts of speech, such as articles. That Fiolek was deaf didn't concern the home-schooling program. She had to re-learn English, and school became a struggle. Fiolek completed most of her high school work through a correspondence program in Pennsylvania. She earned her degree through an accredited online course called On Track.

The Fioleks aren't wealthy. Jim is a computer programmer and Roni is a stay-at-home mom. When Ashley said she wanted to be the best motocrosser and needed their help, the family dedicated itself and its resources to her racing. Making ends meet was tough, though; no matter if the rider is male or female, the costs associated with national-level competition—bikes, fuel, hotels, spare parts, food, etc.—are identical. "Everybody in motocross at the amateur level has second mortgages on their houses," said Roni. "We were fortunate that we didn't have to go to that extreme."

Jim's company let him work on the road. So, when the Fioleks were away mwrn iMir






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One of the boys: Fiolek (middle) poses with her Honda Red Bull teammates Andrew Short and Davi Millsaps. "A lot people think a girl could never qualify for a men's national," said Roni Fiolek. "I think that's what drives Ashley; she always wants to be the first."

from home, he was usually working. If they stayed at a hotel, Ashley and her mother had to leave the room so Jim could hold conference calls. Internet access wasn't easy to find, either. The Fioleks often hung out all day at Starbucks and other WiFi hotspots. Other times, Fiolek and her mother were alone.

"One time, Jim drove us from Florida to Texas in our motorhome and then flew home to work," remembered Roni. "We were there by ourselves for I don't remember how long. Kicker, Ashley's younger brother, was with us, too. He was still little; 1 could stick him in a walker, but that didn't last long.

"We didn't have a mechanic, and I had to work on Ashley's bike. I could tighten the chain, add gas and oil, but that was about it. She would ride all day, and I would work on the bike. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Looking back, though, it was fun. We worked hard, and it's good to see how things turned out."

Though still a teenager, Fiolek is a driving force for equality in women's motocross. While high-profile male riders moved on to the professional ranks, leaving big-time events such as the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships and the Winter National Olympics—better known as the Mini O's—for the next generation, Fiolek (having already bagged a dozen national titles) and her fellow female competitors were expected to continue racing those events.

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