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Road Culture

Portrait: Josie Fouts

Josie Fouts had never been one to ask for help, until she discovered cycling and learned to embrace the team dynamics on and off the bike.

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Josie Fouts has never been one to ask for help. Growing up as a congenital amputee meant figuring out how to adapt to a two-handed world instead of living in one that embraced those of all abilities—a practice that started as a young child when she learned to tie her shoelaces one-handed by herself because no one knew how to teach her. She continued that default throughout life; it was just easier for her to work things out on her own than to rely on even those in her closest inner circle.

But finding cycling changed her whole perspective.

“I just can’t be in the wind the whole time,” she said. “I can’t just sit in my garage with my head down trying to figure out how to build this adaptive bike when I could have people working together with me.”

Fouts, 29, is an adaptive cyclist whose journey of opening up, as well as striving toward greater inclusivity in cycling is told in the new film “Go Josie,” which also chronicles the process of building an adaptive gravel bike with friend and fellow adaptive cyclist Leo Rodgers.

“The film is more about who I am and discovering what has shaped me. It’s a metaphor for how I was living before training, do everything on my own. Now with cycling, I get it’s a team sport—and not just on the bike.”

Fouts started riding in 2018, when she met her partner Taylor, a racer who she saw regularly notching off big training rides. “He was healthy. I know if I’m around healthy people, I will become healthier through the transitive property,” Fouts said, her scientific brain apparent in her words. She started commuting 14 miles each way to the University of California San Diego, where she was a manager in a micronome lab, to relieve the stress of her 9-5 job. Soon, she had a ton of base miles and nowhere to put them. Then, the opportunity to train for the Paralympics came up through the connections she’d made in the San Diego cycling community.

That year, she won gold at U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Nationals in both the individual pursuit and team time trial—her first-ever track competition—and followed that up by taking silver in both the individual race and the time trial at the U.S. Para-cycling Road National Championships. She now has her sights set on the Tokyo Paralympics, and finds out whether she qualifies in June.

Prompted by those early results, she quit her university job to focus full-time on elite competition.

She was an exceptionally quick learner, and made quick physical gains, but she still had a long way to go mentally. When she first started riding, she resisted any adaptive equipment (admittedly, she says, living up to her Instagram handle: @ms.stubborness)

“I was super stubborn. I was like, ‘I don’t need anything adaptive, I’m not technically disabled. I saw myself as quote-unquote normal.”

Josie Fouts Prosthetics
Josie Fouts initially resisted riding with adaptive equipment, a decision that held her back from reaching her true potential.

She rested her stub on the top of her bars, but she could only reach one brake, couldn’t change up her hand position on the bars, and her body position was off because she was so unbalanced. Her friends intervened. One rigged up her brake cable with a splitter from Problem Solvers, which allowed her to control both brakes with her one hand.

A lightbulb immediately went on: “I can go faster if I can stop faster.”

Another friend, an engineering grad student at UCSD, fashioned a customized cup that mounted onto the bars with a shortened aero-bar extension, where she could rest her stub, putting it on the same plane as her other arm, which resulted in much better stability. These days, she rides with a prosthetic that clips directly onto the bars.

She quickly realized that once she gave into accepting help from others, her world opened up.

“I have to undo these things that I mis-learned as a kid,” she says. “That’s a big part of the film, understanding that.”

Things like subconscious influences and social injustices that told her the world wasn’t built for her, an amputee adoptee from South Korea, flipping that around and showing the world, it should be built for everyone. “Isn’t that what everyone has realized over 2020? Once we stopped spinning our wheels, it’s like, ‘What is happening here? Is this actually how we should be treating people of different race or different ability? Should we not be giving them the opportunity to share their perspective?’”

That’s also what’s driving Fouts’ mission to someday get para-mountain biking in the Paralympics, which currently only includes road and track cycling disciplines. Last year, with Tokyo postponed and the pressures of training and racing temporarily relieved, Fouts picked up her first mountain bike, a Surly Karate Monkey hardtail with fat tires, equipped with a Hope Tech 3 Duo lever that allows her to pull two disc brakes with one hand.

She instantly fell in love with the technical challenge of riding on dirt and over rocks, of having to be so in tune with the trail every second of the ride, of rarely riding in a straight line; it all felt so analogous to life.

“If I’m trying to figure out how to get through life, I need to be on terrain where there is no line, it’s not about getting over it faster, it’s about getting through it.”

Josie Fouts mounting a tire to a rim
Josie’s next challenge: get adaptive mountain biking into the Paralympics.

“I was super stubborn. I was like, ‘I don’t need anything adaptive, I’m not technically disabled. I saw myself as quote-unquote normal.”

She’s determined to bring more visibility to this small corner of the dirt world, by sharing stories on social media, hopefully inspiring more adaptive riders to try mountain biking, eventually driving up participation, ultimately turning a cycle of exclusion into inclusion. In the past, there’s been a national para-mountain biking race, but only four riders showed up—not surprising given most companies don’t make parts for adaptive riders, largely because those parts don’t fit into a mass-produced, cookie-cutter parts business plan, and require individualization, another thing Fouts hopes to change. A larger pool of potential customers which drive more development.

For now, she’s focused on Tokyo and then bringing visibility to the para-mountain biking scene by attempting the Fastest Known Time of an adaptive rider on the White Rim trail.

“Instead of the Paralympics being the finish line, it’s just a step to get me in shape for the FKT. As every athlete knows, it’s not just about the finish line, it’s looking past the finish line and then keep going.”

Photos: Chad Hall


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