Leading the pack: Adaptive athlete pedals mountain biking towards the Paralympics

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Josie Fouts loves mountain biking. And she’s good at it. The problem is that their sport is not recognized by the Paralympics.

Josie Fouts, 26, is a mountain biker and adaptive athlete. She is also a transradial congenital amputee, meaning that she was born without her left hand. And she’s only actually been on the bike scene for a few years. Despite being a beginner, she has quickly climbed the ranks of the sport.

If you think, “It must be difficult to get into mountain biking with a limb difference,” that’s actually not the difficult part. The hardest part is getting the chance to measure yourself.

“There’s a skill gap and a double standard,” Fouts told us. “When I realized it wasn’t a discipline, I thought, ‘Wait, why is mountain biking an Olympic sport and not a Paralympic sport?'”

Fouts, two-time National Champion at the US Paralympics, cannot actually compete as a mountain biker. The sport does not exist in the world of the Paralympics. While the Olympic Games currently offer MTB, road, route and BMX disciplines, the Paralympics only offer roads and routes.

“The industry doesn’t sponsor para-athletes on mountain bikes, so they don’t show up in races [races] do not include them. It’s a vicious circle, ”explained Fouts.

Between bikepacking and training, Fouts is currently leading the way in making para-mountain biking an Olympic sport. She wants to close the gap in opportunities for high-performing athletes and people with disabilities. And she hopes to throw her hat into the ring in Tokyo in 2021.

Questions and answers with Josie Fouts

GearJunkie: When did you start biking competitively?

Fouts: I was an amateur cyclist who competed at an elite level. My first track meeting was in December 2018. There I won two national championships and set a national record. I just knew paracycling was where I should be.

How did you get from track cycling to mountain biking?

When COVID happened, a new opportunity presented itself to me. I didn’t have to race or maintain my fitness to race because there weren’t any races. I wanted to use this time to learn more about the bicycle. So, like almost everyone in COVID, I bought a mountain bike.

It’s the shadows and the foliage and the contrast of nature – it’s so much better than flat rails and walls. This film is about showing how para-athletes (and high-performance athletes) can get out on the dirt and turn the cycle into a cycle of growth. That is my ultimate goal: to get more people on bicycles, but especially outside in nature.

Can you talk about what it’s like to be a para-athlete? And compete in Tokyo this year?

The process of being on the para-team is a bit unconventional. Tryouts are only a month in advance [Tokyo]. If I’m quick enough, I can go.

Cycling is still not really seen as a sport like football or basketball. And then you add, you are para beyond that. And then consider gender. And then consider the disciplines: two-wheeler, tandem bicycle, handwheel … you end up competing against one or two other people. So my chances are pretty good.

[There’s also] the whole politics of para-classification. You can see my limb difference. For other athletes you have to describe it. Suppose you work at 40% or have CP or partial ability – you can only classify for a certain group. It’s like something to prove.

But it’s frustrating, yeah. I’ve never had anyone as a role model. I couldn’t see anyone who looked like I was doing the things I wanted to do.

Josie Fouts mountain biking on dirt roadPhoto credit: Chad Hall

What did a para-athlete teach you about yourself or help you achieve it?

The film turned out to be really good therapy for me. It helped me see why I am the way I am. I just focus on what I can do. I focus on the benefits of being a pioneer woman for para women and para cyclists. I might get frustrated with what I don’t have, but I’d rather focus on what I have.

The biggest thing it taught me is that I am part of such an amazing community. It is also a team sport in racing. It is in the nature of sport to be inclusive.

You are starring in a new Pearl Izumi movie called “Go Josie”. Can you tell us a little bit about the movie and the bike you made recently?

The bike I built in the film is a gravel bike: road frame geometry, no suspension, thicker tires. The bike build reflects the story of how I went from being an amateur cyclist to being an athlete. I started building it by myself in my garage and I got stuck. The problem isn’t that big when you ask for help. So ask for help, work with Leo, be part of the community.

My brake setup [on the gravel bike] is super unique. I have two levers on the right side, while on my racing bike I have a mechanical brake with a cable divider that brakes 50% of the braking force on both sides. On the bike I built into the film, the brakes are all hydraulic. I actually added a third brake on top of my bar.

I didn’t notice this at first, but everyone obviously adds weight to the bars so my bike just turns right. I realized that I need to build more strength in my left arm to compensate for this.

Would you like to share something else?

I want to emphasize once again the importance of having inclusive sponsors. Brands like Swiftwick, Pearl Izumi, Lazer, Shimano – they treat me like a capable professional. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I want to do. Your support is huge.

Josie Fouts MTB Equipment List

Fouts and their wealth of MTB skills can now be seen in the film “Go Josie”. Watch the movie here. Would like more? You can find Josie Fouts on Instagram @ ms.sturheit.

The film “Go Josie” is sponsored by Swiftwick and Pearl Izumi.

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