Some would say Ashley Fiolek was already a superhero.
Profoundly deaf since birth, Fiolek remarkably became the best female racer in the noisy world of motocross just a few years ago. She has won four Women's Motocross Championships and two X Games gold medals. Her inspirational story landed her in Vogue, on Conan O'Brien's guest couch, and in a role on the ABC show "Switched at Birth."
Fiolek shocked the motocross world two years ago when she walked away from WMX at the pinnacle of her career because she didn't agree with how the series was being managed by the promoters, and the future for the best rider in the sport suddenly became uncertain.
Now, she's returning to the spotlight as a villain. No, really.
She took the stage once again on Thursday in Tampa not as Ashley Fiolek, but as an anti-hero, a Hydra Agent, one of the motorcycle-riding protectors of the villainous Madame Hydra and the Red Skull Army. Riding a Zero electric motorcycle, Fiolek is one of the 55 performers in the new Marvel Universe Live Tour, a two-year, 85-city live action show, featuring the largest assembly of Marvel Comics characters ever onstage, which kicked off at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday.
Of those, 11 use motorcycles in their performances, including former X Games Enduro X silver medalist Louise Forsley (Black Widow), and former X Games athletes Sara Whitmore (Madame Hydra), Brittany Marcotte and Ryan Sandoval. Captain America, who has historically always used motorcycles in his heroism, has the biggest motorcycle part in the show. He is played by Phil Smage, a professional trials rider. A behind-the-scenes look at rehearsal shows the stable of motorcycles that will be incorporated into the show.
Fiolek was first drawn to stunt performing in 2011 when she met stuntwoman LaFaye Baker at an event for a foundation devoted to empowering the lives of young, at-risk girls. Then, earlier this year, she visited the home of stunt industry icons Lane Leavitt and Debbie Evans-Leavitt, the latter also a member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and a former professional trials rider. When Lane Leavitt heard that Feld Entertainment, which also produces the Monster Energy Supercross series, was looking for blonde women for a live action tour, he suggested Fiolek. While Fiolek's true personality doesn't match that of her character, she's enjoying the role.
"Everyone always says that I'm so innocent and sweet, but I think it's fun to play for the villains. It's challenging for sure," Fiolek said.
Fiolek's role as a live-action performer has been made easier by the presence of her friend and roommate, former X Games athlete Brittany Marcotte, who is fluent in sign language. She fights alongside Fiolek as a Hydra Agent and is also the understudy for Black Widow.
Jayme Dalsing, director of operations for Feld Motor Sports, said the company has long been aware of Fiolek's performance on the racetrack, and with her natural riding ability, it wanted to cast her. Her methods to figuring out the script, routines and format without being able to hear or speak impressed the company even more.
"She's always watching and always paying attention," Dalsing said. "We never have to worry about her being in the wrong spot. Just like she knew where the other riders were on the motocross track, when the scene is on, she knows where she's supposed to be and where everyone else is supposed to be."
Louise Forsley came from trials and endurocross and never competed against Fiolek, but in the Marvel world she plays the Black Widow, a super spy who is helping the S.H.I.E.L.D Army (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate) save the Universe from the evil Loki. Madame Hydra and her evil agents are some of the villains Forsley must fight.
Like Fiolek, Forsley didn't know much about Spider-Man, Green Goblin and the Incredible Hulk. She also wasn't much for wearing makeup or walking with the sway of a runway model. When she was first cast, she thought her riding skills were all that would be needed. She didn't know she would learn how to throw a roundhouse to the face, block a punch and, gulp, act.
"Learning martial arts was the biggest challenge for me because I wasn't flexible," Forsley said. "Also, trying to get into character. The Black Widow is supposed to be sexy. I went from rarely putting on makeup to doing it three times a day and wearing a wig."
Not only has Fiolek not raced since September 2012, until the Marvel opportunity popped up, she's only sparingly ridden dirt bikes. In February she received a 125cc two stroke from Husqvarna and showed up at SoCal tracks for occasional weekday practice sessions. Now she's riding every day.
The Marvel tour is more than two years long, but all performers sign on for one year initially. The show is dark only three weeks out of the first year. Still, Fiolek is just as busy outside the demanding show schedule building her foundation, working with writers on a movie about her life and public speaking appearances.
Her foundation operates under the vision of dream, work, achieve. A new program she's attempting to launch aims to expose underprivileged youth and women's groups to the experience of riding dirt bikes and "build self-esteem through learning a new skills, inspire new possibilities and guide towards positive decision-making," according to the foundation's website. Fiolek will lead the small groups, which will be held on flat dirt surfaces.
"I just want them to have the experience of riding and not join it for dreams of competition and championships, just to have a good time," she said.
Additionally, Sony's Affirm films, along with producer/director Andy Fickman are in the writing stages of a full-length narrative film on the Fiolek family, which will be based on her 2008 autobiography, "Kicking Up Dirt." Affirm also produced the 2011 movie "Soul Surfer." Chloe Moretz and Dakota Fanning are two actors being considered in the role of Fiolek. Fiolek said that whoever is chosen to play her will need to learn sign language and she will spend at least six months teaching the lead actress how to sign like her. Dirt bike skills are not required; Fiolek will be the stunt double, "Hey, I want to make myself look good!"
She's also a motivational speaker and has appeared at engagements for Walgreens, TEDx, the Group Y Conference and others.
At home, Fiolek plays with her pets; Bambi, a hyperactive Australian shepherd, Holeshot, a bashful Shiba Inu mix and a bunny named Thumper. She owns a home in a gated lake community in Southern California but she doesn't like the water. She has two roommates and a billiards table adjacent to the kitchen. Her 2009 championship Honda CRF250 sits in the living room. She also owns two homes in Florida, which she rents.
She has no more interest in trying to change or improve the WMX. It's behind her now. Although she never officially announced her retirement, her foundation's website says, "I am a retired professional motocross racer." After racing, she took some time to have fun, learn to snowboard and travel with her family.
On Thursday, she took the first steps in building her resume as a stuntwoman, her second career. Fiolek has gone from real-life superhero to onstage villain -- all this before she reaches her mid-20s.