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 had kindled a passion for the great outdoors that would eventually lead to two national Paralympics road and track cycling championships and an attempt to compete in the Summer Paralympic Games.
When Fouts first arrived 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 she met on a dating app.
At the time, she had been biking about a mile a day, commuting to and from classes. 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,” she said. “Cycling became my happy place.”
Although she did not compete in the Tokyo Games held in 2021, Fouts is now working to make mountain biking a Paralympic sport.
A disability as a strength
Fouts was born without a left hand. “I never saw myself as having a disability before,” she said.
But she does have a sense of humor: Fouts describes herself as “a mad scientist on a mission to single-handedly save the world with cycling,” and sees her disability as a strength. “There’s not many perfect things in the real world, and that’s just where I belong.”
“There’s not many perfect things in the real world, and that’s just where I belong.”-JOSIE FOUTS (M.S.,’16)
“She has a passion for taking care of her body and mind, and how to be successful from eating and exercising well,” Michelle Foster, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, said of her former student.
In San Diego, Fouts met a group of road bike riders that included a paracyclist — Cody Young — who inspired her with his perspective and optimism. She made the decision to quit her 9-to-5 lab manager job and devote herself full-time to training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in the road racing event.
“I saw this decision as a win-win opportunity,” Fouts said. “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.”
No paramountain biking events
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, although the Paralympics do not host a paramountain biking event. While the Summer Olympics offer road, track, BMX, and mountain biking for its athletes, Paralympians compete only in road and track cycling.
“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. “We’re doing a disservice to our athletes by not offering the same events.
Instead of heading to Tokyo, she said that this is an opportunity for her to do her own thing, which means building a paramountain biking competition in her community.