Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beverly School for the Deaf gets boost from Motorcycle champ Ashley Fiolek

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The Beverly School for the Deaf was all revved up to meet Ashley Fiolek.

Fresh off another gold medal victory while visiting the Bay State, the No. 1 ranked United States Amateur Women’s Motorcycle champion made special a pit stop at the Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf for a two-hour demonstration, Aug. 31.

The campus, which has been educating deaf and communication-challenged children since 1876, was a fitting backdrop for Fiolek, who has been deaf since birth.

“The director from the school found out about me and thought it would be inspiring to the students if I came to the school and showed them what I do,” Fiolek said.

Overcoming personal handicaps has been nothing new for the 18-year-old speed demon. But it’s never stopped her from quickly making a name for herself in the fast and furious cycling circuit. Over the past decade, Fiolek has racked up an impressive array of victories, while continuing to be an inspiration to the students as well as other people with disabilities.

“Ashley was in Massachusetts for a race and graciously agreed to meet our students,” said Judy Gansberg, of The Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf. “It was wonderful. The kids were thrilled to have a deaf heroine visit.”

Fiolek introduced her self to the students, let them handle her latest gold medal, signed posters and also held a question and answer session. One of the boys even got to sit on her motorcycle, wearing Fiolek’s gloves and goggles.

But it was Fiolek’s performance on her motorcycle that really got the crowd buzzing. Jumping on her Honda CRF250R, the 18-year old rumbled around the grassy hillside pulling several wheelies along the way, while garnering loud cheers from the crowd.

It was clear that Fiolek made quite an impression with the students.

According to Fiolek, her favorite part of these type of events is her interaction with the students.

“I explained to the kids about my riding gear and my motorcycle,” she said. “[I liked] answering all the kids questions and seeing that they were really interested in what I did. I think it was very positive and I had a great time.”

Born and raised in Dearborn, MI, Fiolek started racing motorbikes at the age of 7. She won the Loretta Lynn Air Nautique Nationals in 2004 at the tender age of 13. She went on to capture 13 national amateur championships between 2004-07 and was the No. 1 ranked Women/Girl Amateur Racer of the Year in 2005. Fiolek also won the AMA/WMA Women’s Motocross Championship in 2008, at the age of 17.

Currently residing in St. Augustine, FL, Fiolek continues to drive all over the country sponsored by Red Bull and Honda Motorcycles, spreading her positive message along the way.

“I just started [visiting] deaf schools,” she said. “I have only done two this year, but I am going to do a big one in California [during] Deaf Awareness month. The mayor invited me.”

The Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf currently serves approximately 100 students from Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties. Approximately 80 percent have a hearing or communication challenges and 60 percent have additional developmental issues. The Echo Avenue school is currently in an expansion phase since more and more students regionally need their educational services.

The Beverly Citizen recently caught up with Ashley Fiolek to get the lowdown on her motorcycle career.

Q. How long have you been riding?

A. I have been racing for almost 12 years.

Q. What was it that drew you to the sport?

A. My dad used to race so he kind of got me involved in it.

Q. How long have you been racing competitively?

A. Since I was 7 I have been racing competitively so 11 years.

Q. What are some of the titles you have won recently?

A. I won a gold medal at X Games and I won the Women's Motocross Association Series last year in my rookie year

Q. What’s been your most memorable moment on the bike?

A. Well, I think being invited to join the Honda Red Bull race team is one of my most memorable moments I am the first girl to do that.

Q. As a deaf cyclist, what are the challenges you face whenever you hit the road?

A. Not really many challenges. I had to learn how to shift when I was younger by vibrations instead of sound and when I race I have to hold my lines because I don’t hear the people behind me.

Q. What is next for you?

A. Competitions. I have one more final race this weekend for this year in Delmont, PA. I’m excited about finishing up my series.

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