When Josie Fouts graduated from Colorado State University in 2016, she left with more than a master’s degree in food science and nutrition. She kindled a passion for the great outdoors that would eventually lead to an attempt to make the Paralympic Games, which started this week.
When Fouts first arrived for the graduate program in Fort Collins, she realized that she had never previously explored the mountains let alone the American West. Her introduction to cycling at CSU came from Taylor Warren, a collegiate cyclist who she met on a dating app. From then on, the outdoor lifestyle experience became her passion.
Fouts explained that at the time she had been biking about a mile, commuting to and from CSU. By the time she graduated and relocated to San Diego, her morning and afternoon commute increased to 14-28 miles.
“That soon became my every day, and I would look forward to it,” said Fouts. “Cycling became my happy place.”
A disability as a strength
Born without a left hand, Fouts is a transradial congenital amputee. “I never saw myself as having a disability before,” she said, and likewise it never stopped her from cycling or being humorous.
At CSU, Fouts’ former professor Michelle Foster recalled offering help to her during a lab experiment, saying, “Let me give you a hand.”
Foster, an associate professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition and assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, recalls that Fouts responded in jest, “Yeah sure, I’ll take one.”
After CSU, Fouts said the job as a lab manager that had brought her to California didn’t exactly give her purpose. She was spending much of her time examining the microbiome landscape of the gut and digestion track under a microscope.
“She has a passion for taking care of her body and mind, and how to be successful from eating and exercising well,” Foster said.
In San Diego, Fouts met a group of road bike riders that also included a paracyclist — Cody Young — who inspired her with his perspective and optimism. She then made the decision to quit her nine-to-five lab manager position and devoted herself full-time to training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in the road racing event, which started Tuesday, Aug. 24.
“I saw this decision as a win-win opportunity. Best-case scenario: I make the team. Best worst-case scenario: I get into the best shape of my life and get to hang around an amazing bike community,” said Fouts.
Yet, this is where Fouts ran into an issue. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she purchased her first mountain bike to ride with her friends despite the fact that the Paralympics do not host a paramountain biking event.
“I was starting to second-guess myself: If the Paralympics didn’t offer paramountain biking at the highest level, was I even capable? Then, I realized that able-bodied committees were telling paratheletes what they can and cannot do,” said Fouts. There are currently only road and track bicycling events offered at the Summer Paralympics, while the Summer Olympics offer road, track, BMX, and mountain biking for its athletes.
“I did start to have doubts, but my friends told me that if anyone could do it, that it was going to be me who could,” Fouts said.
Fouts explained that despite the event limitations at the Paralympics, she discovered a deep love for mountain biking, as well as a continuing love for road racing and how it connects her to herself and the environment.
“I was in denial about my abilities, but mountain biking has shown me that I can find balance,” she said. “We’re doing a disservice to our athletes by not offering the same events.”
While Fouts did not qualify for this year’s Paralympics in road racing, she doesn’t plan on letting that get in her way.
Instead of heading to Tokyo, she said that this is an opportunity for her to do her own thing, which she said means building a paramountain biking competition in her community.
Fouts sees her disability as a strength and does not see herself as incapable of doing casual, daily things, saying, “There’s not many perfect things in the real world, and that’s just where I belong.”