Girl On: Elysia UlrichAug 31 2007 / Los Angeles, CA
That's not surprising for this 23-year-old from Reno, NV, who started out in her teens as a ski racer before taking on desert racing -- grueling races of more than 100 miles in the desert. She was the MRANN desert racing series women's champion in 2003 and 2004 and then set her sites on something more challenging: motocross.
Using the nickname "DirtyGirl" she has found some fans online, where her profile on Sponsorhouse.com is the eighth-most viewed from among more than 100,000, probably helped by the fact that she doesn't mind modeling in a bikini with her bike. But looks don't get you wins, so she backs it up with skill as well.
We talked with Elysia about her injury and her recovery, as well as her goals for the future. This amateur rider is definitely one to watch over the next season as she aims for the pro ranks in women's motocross
Lat34: You broke your back last year. What happened?
Elysia: I was practicing for Mammoth Motocross and I had just been riding for too long. I got too tired and made a dumb mistake off a really easy jump and landed right on my back. It was a pretty horrible experience and really frightening. Laying on the ground wondering if you're going to be paralyzed, trying to wiggle your toes and figure everything out when you're in excruciating pain is pretty intense.
Lat34: Did you know right away something was wrong or did you want to get up and walk it off?
Elysia: I was an EMT for a little bit so once it happened... Tons of people came up to me and said, "Oh do you want to try and get up and get off the track?"
I'm like, "Nope, please call an ambulance. I am not getting up."
Lat34: How long did it take to recover?
Elysia: It happened in June. I probably wasn't getting around really well until the beginning of September. It took awhile. I was pretty lucky because I didn't have to wear a back brace or anything. So I just basically had to lay in bed for several months. One of the funny things is that even though you're supposed lay in bed and not really do anything, they want you to try and get up and walk around -- as much as you can without aggravating it. That was definitely the hardest part.
Lat34: So that was basically your physical therapy?
Elysia: Getting up and walking around was pretty funny because I tried to go around my block which might be around a quarter-mile, but the first time I decided I was going to make it all the way around it took some ridiculous amount of time to go the shortest distance because I was moving so slow and everything hurt so bad. It was so hard.
Lat34: How did it feel to sit on a bike again?
Elysia: From the second that I wrecked all I wanted to know was when I could get back on a bike and start riding again. It was something I looked forward to from the very second I had the accident. I just wanted to ride again. For awhile it was kind of questionable as to whether or not I would be able to and, even then, if I was able to ride would I heal up well enough to race again? And that's really my thing because I'm a really competitive person.
So I just wanted to get back on the bike and get back out on the track and go to some races.
Lat34: Are you pretty well-healed now?
Elysia: Well, technically I'm not supposed to be riding a dirt bike any more according to my doctor. But I can't really see myself not riding until it's physically impossible to ride. It's something that brings me such joy and happiness in my life.
I work in an office and sit in a chair all day which is really bad if you have any kind of back problem. So I always have to get up and move around so it doesn't get too stiff. I actually have a disc that's partially herniated so that's one of the reasons my doctor didn't want me to keep riding. Because if I have any kind of crash and hit it the right way that thing's going to blow and having a herniated disc isn't fun.
Lat34: Seems like that would be hard to deal with.
Elysia: I always have it in the back of my mind but I really try not to think about it at all. Most days it doesn't bother me but there are definitely good days and bad days. It's just something you have to work with as it goes along, I guess.
Lat34: Do you think you're back to your old self?
Elysia: Actually it's been going pretty well. As far as back pain, I've only had that happen to me during non-motocross races. I do grand prix races --- I was doing a team race for fun -- and it was a two-hour race. I had already done a 40-minute individual moto, but during the two hour race... I'm not sure. I think I have a time limit or something and once I hit it I can't ride anymore because it hurts so bad. I was pretty much in tears and came off the track and gave someone my bike then laid flat on the ground and just tried to be still to try and relieve the pain.
It doesn't really bother me too much in motocross . Depending upon how long your moto is and then you have such a huge break before the next one. As long as I'm not riding a consistently long time, I'm okay.
Standing, sitting, riding too long, any of that starts to aggravate it. But that really hasn't been a problem for me. It's just been my confidence and trying to be consistent. I've had some glimmers of my old self and feeling confident -- That's where you will see the better results.
Lat34: You had success in desert racing before you started doing motocross. Why the change?
Elysia: Desert racing's fun but extremely hard, too. The distance is anywhere from 75 to 120 miles. It's fun to go out there and do your best and try to stick it out for that whole period of time but at the same time after you've ridden so many miles in the desert you're kind of like, "Well, let's mix it up a little bit." It's really challenging but I just wanted to try something that was challenging in just a different way.
Lat34: Have you been involved in other sports?
Elysia: Actually, I was really involved in ski racing. Pretty much from when I was 12 until I started riding dirt bikes when I was 17. That's kind of the reason I started riding dirt bikes -- ski racing was getting so ridiculously expensive to go and compete on a national level. I didn't want my parents to have that sort of burden on them to try and use every possible cent so I could try and go to all these crazy national events for ski racing.
So I told my mom, "Hey mom, if you pay for half of a dirt bike, I will quit ski racing."
At the time, that sounded like a pretty good deal to her. Buy some old beater dirt bike for $800 and she only has pay $400 and I would quit ski racing. Little did she know I would turn into the same thing in motocross, so it's kind of funny.
Lat34: So do you have to travel a lot for racing now, or do you focus on regional events?
Elysia: I try and hit up everything that's big on the west coast as much as I can. There's a lot that goes on in California. So I do regional stuff around Nevada and California and then any of the nationals. I went to Hangtown (in Sacramento) and Washougal (in Washington state) and I also went to the world minis in Las Vegas. There are pretty decent races out here, so as long as you can hit those big ones up it looks pretty good for sponsors. Next year I'm going to try and qualify for my WMA (Women’s Motocross Association) pro license and you have to get so many top finishes in the national races. So as long as I can get those done on the west coast I won't have to try and travel for the other ones. But once I do turn pro, obviously I'm going to want to hit up everything all over the country.
Lat34: So then it gets expensive again...
Elysia: It's pretty difficult. Luckily, I have a pretty good job working for an investment company. It's nice to make good money but when all of your money is going to one thing you could have all the money in the world and it seems like you'd still never have enough to accomplish all the things and do all the things to your bike you'd want to do without having someone else helping you.
Lat34: And you also have school?
Elysia: Yes. School starts on Monday (Aug. 27). I'm actually trying to get a degree in international business. I figure that once the back goes and I can't race any longer I'd still like to stay within the industry and having that kind of degree would be really helpful, I think, in trying to get a job with Honda or any of the other big manufacturers or accessory companies that distribute worldwide.
Lat34: How have you seen the sport change for women in the last few years?
Elysia: It's definitely getting a lot bigger. When I first started desert racing it wasn't really big at all. It's grown so much in the last four years. I've had little girls come up to me and say, "I want to ride a dirt bike like you when I'm older."
That makes you feel so good because someone's seeing you as a role model. And to know that you're encouraging girls to participate in the sport is a great thing.
With the WMA Miki Keller is doing a really good job of trying to get the women's pro races on Sunday along with the men's, so that it gets a lot more exposure and hopefully grows the fan base. She's doing a really good job with that and it's just amazing to see how many more girls are competing. Girls that race the WMA amateur class -- that's a very competitive class. It feels great to be part of something that has grown so explosively in the last several years. And hopefully I will be one of the pros moving up in '09.
Lat34: What's your next event?
Elysia: The next significant one is the Dodge Amatuer Nationals which are held down at Hangtown in Sacramento, California, October 2nd through the 7th.
At Mammoth I was so excited -- I did so well down there. I wanted to carry that momentum from Mammoth up to Washougal and I didn't finish as well as I wanted to. Hopefully I can get back on my "A" game for Dodge nationals.
Lat34: So where do you see yourself in five years?
Elysia: I would love to still be racing in five years, hopefully as a professional. A lot of it depends on how my spine holds up just because there is too much wrong with me already. I stay hopeful. I'm in pretty good shape and I try to take really good care of myself so that I can have the longevity that most other people who haven't had my kind of injuries have.
Elysia is currently sponsored by Big Valley Honda, One Industries, Tag Metals, Pro Circuit, Dunlop, EVS, Acerbis, Kicker Car Audio, No-Toil, Carbon Fiberworks, Spy, Works Connection, Osiris, Hammerhead Designs, MotoCandy, Decal Works, Boyesen and Troy Lee Designs.
- Greg Baerg