Roni Fiolek always knew her daughter, Ashley, would be special.
At age 7, Ashley became intrigued with motorbikes and practiced religiously. By the time she was 13, she was one of the top female amateur motocross riders in the country.
Now 17, the St. Augustine native is the face of a growing sport and will be one of 10 women competing for medals and a prize purse at the first Women's Moto X event at the X Games in Los Angeles. The competition will air live Saturday on WFTS, Channel 28.
But it's not just her riding that makes Ashley unique. She was born deaf.
Amazingly, being hearing impaired hasn't affected her career.
"Mostly I depend on vibrations, and to shift my bike I need to be able to feel the bike," Fiolek said via e-mail. "I look for shadows on the ground to know when people are behind me or look when I am in corners."
She communicates through e-mail and sign language or relies on her parents to translate for her.
"We feel that she can do what she does because she has a passion for the sport and a desire to win," Roni said. "It doesn't matter if she was hearing or deaf. It is just her desire to do the best she can."
As a child, however, Ashley had to deal with being one of few girls in the sport, in addition to being deaf. She admitted it sometimes isolated her from her peers.
"I think some of the girls just started to drop out because it was hard to compete with the boys," she said. "At first I felt a little alone but my family can sign language. Then in 2004 when people started to notice me, a lot of people started to sign or fingerspell or learn different ways to communicate with me. I have a ton of people that talk to me now."
And with success, her self-esteem grew.
"It just makes me feel really good," she said. "It boosts my confidence and I just feel like I can do anything."
Women's Motocross Association president and founder Dominica Keller played a vital role in adding the sport to the X Games. She first spotted Ashley in 2003 and noticed the teenager's star quality.
"She's a really skilled, really confident rider," Keller said. "She's definitely in control of the bike, she definitely has iconic value and she definitely has the opportunity to get the word out."
With riders like Fiolek and Tallahassee native and four-time WMA champion Jessica Patterson on the circuit, Keller said the sport is ready to become a part of the grandest extreme sports showcase in the world.
"I think it's a huge thing for women's motocross," she said. "At the nationals, we've gotten a higher profile but now with the X Games, we'll have women get exposure on ABC and ESPN. I think to the people tuning in, it might be the first time they've seen women ride motocross. They'll be really surprised how well they ride."
"When we were invited, I thought it was just great," Fiolek said.
Fiolek, the current WMA points leader, said the sport only will continue to grow.
"I definitely think it has a great future," she said. "Things are improving every day for women's motocross as it becomes more and more well known."
NOTE: Tampa's Chad Reed and Largo's Tim Ferry declined the invitation to compete in Men's Moto X competition this year.