Chinese New Year special series:
The Parallel Lines in Life – Exclusive Interview with Kim Chen
The Pianist on Two Wheels – Exclusive Interview with Rui Jia
© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Olivia Jia
Today, on Lantern Festival, we conclude our Chinese New Year special series and give you the story of Tianshuang “Olivia” JIA, 2020 Ducati China Panigale Cup (DCPC) Champion.
In 2019, Olivia was the Runner-up of the DCPC season. Last year, in her second season, she won the title. Even though now she is a successful racing rider and the only female rider in China racing in the 1000cc category, there was a time when the beauty of roadracing escaped Olivia. Born in 1992 in Northeastern China, Olivia grew up on the east coast of China in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. She had been a pool player and a leisure rider since she was a teenager.“My first ride was with my brother on his Honda CB400. I loved riding with him and our friends to beautiful places. I thought it was boring to be riding on a circuit. I didn’t like watching races either. I played pool for 12 years. That was my sport.”
Even though Olivia’s first exposure to a motorcycle wasn’t on a Ducati, fate has it that she would be one day inseparable from the Bologna factory. She says she always liked the red machine, and coincidentally, what took her finally to the circuit, was Ducati Riding Experience (DRE). “In 2017, I had my first track day event, it was a DRE training. I didn’t even sign up for it. Someone else dropped out, and I was asked whether I’d like to fill in. I honestly don’t remember much about that event. I remember doing what I was told to do, like moving my body on the bike, but I couldn’t fully understand everything. I also met Sara Falzolgher at the event, Ducati China’s Marketing Director, who became my boss as it turned out. But at the time I didn’t know who she was.”
Having been through a racing training course, roadracing became slightly different for Olivia when she went to the circuit again. But what made her want to race herself, was oddly enough an invitation to be an umbrella girl. “My friends go racing at Tianma Circuit a lot. After the DRE event, I went with them again. This time I understood more about what they were doing, and I was actually studying how they rode. But then my friends provoked me. They said I was so pretty, even prettier than some of the umbrella girls, I should be their umbrella girls. That comment made me really angry. I thought they were looking down upon me and all women, why should men race and women carry their umbrellas?! I’m gonna race myself.”
And Olivia’s racing career started when she didn’t believe carrying an umbrella was all she could do on the circuit.
When Olivia decided that she would like to pursue a racing career, she didn’t know where to start. Then through an online community, she found Simon Kwan, who was building a racing team for Ducati China. “Simon was my coach during my first DRE event, but I didn’t know him back then. Later I saw his race in CSBK, the power of a liter-bike in a race at that level was simply astonishing. When I met him online, he told me I could come in for testing if I was interested in racing. So I went to Zhuhai and tested a 600cc bike at a karting circuit. It was raining that day, but I didn’t know it was more dangerous in the rain, so I was just doing the same thing as in dry condition. Simon was really impressed with the way I rode. Then I also had interviews with people on the team and at Ducati China. I started working on the team and training with them that year.”
As the training started, Olivia stepped on the right track to becoming a racer, but it didn’t mean things would just work themselves out easily from here. The biggest challenge for Olivia was yet to come. “I was learning all the basics on a liter-bike, which made it more difficult and took me longer to get things right. My first year was mostly just training and working on the team. It was difficult to see everyone else race while I wasn’t fast enough. Then in 2018, my lap time was suddenly improving a lot. I was really happy, thinking I could finally get into the races. That was when I had my serious crash. I broke all my bones on the right side. The surgery took 11 hours. I almost lost my right ankle and foot.”
I was conscious after the crash. I was lying on the track, thinking ‘Can I still ride bikes and race after this? How could it be like this?’
Olivia’s crash was critical, almost fatal. But what hurt the most wasn’t even the injuries, or the fact that she missed the opportunity to be the coach at a Ducati event on her birthday in her hometown, or the possibilities that she may not be back on a bike ever again. It was criticisms from people who didn’t know anything about her, or the accident itself. “While I was recovering after the surgery, I cried thinking that the team put so much in me, but I may not be able to race after this and they might give up on me. When I could move my arms, I checked my phone. There were a lot of talks about my accident online, and some people said really nasty things about me. ‘Girls weren’t supposed to be riding bikes’, ’Liter-bikes weren’t for girls’, ’She won’t be back on a bike ever again’. You know what, I wasn’t angry. What they said made me even more motivated and determined to get better and get back on a bike, get back to racing.”
I was scheduled to be the coach at this unveiling event of a V4 bike in Ningbo, the city I grew up in. It was really meaningful because it was my birthday. But I had to miss it as it was only two months after my accident. I was gutted.
To get back to racing, Olivia started therapy and training as soon as possible. She was back at the circuit when she was still on a crutch, and she was back to racing before her right ankle recovered 100%. Even until now, Olivia is still suffering from some complications on her right ankle, but her passion for racing still burns fiercely.“I finally stood on the starting grid in May 2019 for DCPC. My right ankle, leg, and arm were still recovering at the time. Now you will still see me limping while I walk, and it still hurts if I pay attention to my ankle. But racing is about your determination, either I quit racing, or I grit my teeth and ride with the pain. I’ll just focus on the racing.”
Coming back to racing in DCPC, Olivia found the perfect platform to develop her skills and prove her abilities. It all paid off in 2020 when she was crowned the champion. “DCPC is a perfect platform for me to step up my game. It is also single-make, so it was down to myself, rather than the bike, to win races.”
A lot of times I was just trying to prove that I’m as good as the others, women are as good as men. You can’t label me by my gender. Whether it’s our body, our mind, our spirit, as long as we want to, we can be just as good.
Outside of her racing and training, Olivia is among the DRE instructors and would teach riders from a variety of backgrounds, showing them how to enjoy a Ducati motorcycle. She draws a great deal from her own experience when instructing her classes. “Because in my first session I was so lost, I know how it would be quite overwhelming for people who don’t know much about motorcycles. I’ll explain what we are doing in more detail. I learned the basics on a liter-bike. So when I give them advice, I speak from my experience.”
For people who are interested in motorcycles but are second-guessing trying it out, Olivia would tell them to take the pressure off. “You see 4-5 years old kids on minimotos, and you see riders in their 70s during track day. You don’t have to think that this is a fatal exercise, that if you come to the circuit you are being irresponsible to your family. You can control most of the risks, it is just an extreme sport, it is safer to be fast on a circuit than on the street or in the mountains. As long as you can afford it financially, come and try it out. If you are good, you’ll enjoy it even more, and maybe train for races.”
In 2021, as Ducati China’s Track & Safety Official Instructor, Olivia will still be busy with DRE schedule, marketing events, day-to-day work on the team, as well as her own training and racing. We are sure she will continue to prove herself on her Panigale V4 on any platforms she would like to debut on.
We conclude our Chinese New Year special series here. There are still many female riders with amazing stories, we will be continuing with these interviews in the future.
In March, we kick off a new series – Extreme E female drivers’ profiles. From March 5th, and every 5th of the month following that, we will bring you one female driver in Extreme E each month.
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