In September of 2018, I quit my ‘dream job’ to pursue a healthier lifestyle and found myself in the saddle because I truly believe in the holistic power of the bicycle! Not only is it a great exercise machine for the body, but it also trains the mind: riding on the road and trails requires my full undivided attention, and understanding how all bicycle components work together for forward motion is the ultimate life lesson. Only 18 months of training on a bike, and I’ve learned more about myself — strengths and weaknesses — than I had in 18 years of education including graduate school. My name is Josie Fouts and I traded in a lab coat for skinsuits to be an elite paracyclist! Why would I trade a 9-to-5 career to ride a bicycle? Community, connection and the cycling-IS-life metaphors!
As a congenital amputee, I was born with the problem-solving skills to rapidly adapt to an ambidextrous world. These abilities coupled with a passion for nutrition go hand in… stub (hand-in-hand pun intended) in the curious world of research and led me to the front line of metabolism science as a microbiome lab manager. It was the shit: access to the latest research discoveries AND professionally make poop puns! The thought of contributing meaningful research for life improvements got me through the long days of playing with stool. Behind the shits-and-giggles was an unsettled gut feeling I associate with cognitive dissonance: we studied the connection of the gut microbiome and overall host health but we were sacrificing our own health to get the job done first. For example, collecting stool every 4 hours over 48 hours to accurately measure the microbiome’s circadian rhythm was really messing with my sleep schedule. I felt like a hypocrite that knew she was going to bonk eventually; this lifestyle was unsustainable.
When the opportunity to train for the Tokyo Paralympics was presented to me, I weighed out my options: my best worst-case scenario was if I didn’t make the team, I would get in the best shape of my life and hang out with cool people along the way… either way, I’ll come out a winner. The cycling community is the family I choose! Everyone is happy to loan you their bike sitting in the garage because they want to see it ridden rather than rust away. Everyone is happy to loan you their race gear because they want to see you succeed rather than lose by less than a second. Everyone is happy, period! My hypothesis was that everyone is happy because everyone that rides a bike — whether it’s a 2-mile commute or a 200-mile training week — is healthy. I thought of the endless possibilities to connect the lifestyle of bike riding with overall physical and mental health. For example, having a balanced microbiome or having a balanced circadian rhythm are both connected to a balanced mind individually, but imagine the combined effect, and a group of individuals with the combined effect! This is a community of pure happiness.
I chose my family and started training while continuing to connect the dots: heart rate and Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE), power and RPE, performance and RPE. As a novice serious rider, RPE is the hardest to measure. And for me, there was a combined effect of being an amputee from birth. I was born with a mind-over-matter mindset and have always made things physically work with a can-do attitude. However, after 27 years of my mental will overpowering the limits of my body, my brain was wired to turn down the volume of the messages my body was sending it. Understanding my RPE through training was giving my bodily senses a voice inside my head for the first time: I could sense the pH change and acid build up in my legs, I could sense the overstretched ligaments from a history of ankle injuries, and I could sense underused muscles in my left forearm which would be used for fingers if I had them. Not only has cycling connected me more to myself, I am also more connected to the family I choose.
When I met Taylor, my role model, and partner, he was a Cat-1 bike racer with dreams of becoming a pro and he did it! As we grew closer, I became his sounding board on mentally difficult days and talked him up to himself: “Grad school and a regular job are paths that are always available at any age. The same cannot be said for being a pro athlete.” When the opportunity to train for the Tokyo Paralympics was presented to me, I asked myself a hard question: do I take my own advice? When I weighed out my options, I realized that I could better relate to Taylor when he puts in the training hours. That was enough for me. And similarly, I felt connected with anyone on a bicycle. For example, when I caught up to another cyclist during my 14-mile commute to the lab, we could work together to get to where we were going faster. I could have driven in the same time it took to ride my bike, but I thought about who I really wanted to be: A) another car in traffic and stressed that other people are doing the same thing I was, or B) be happy to see another person — of any ability level, race, hair color, or bike brand — that was doing the same thing I was, just making it to my destination in one piece. Just like I chose the latter, I choose cycling to be my sport.
CYCLING IS LIFE
Cycling is the most complex sport because everything is connected: the chainlinks to each other, the cog to the chainring, the bike to the rider. For similar reasoning, the body is the most complex natural being: the cells communicate to each other to be a functional tissue, the tissues work together to be a functional organ, the organs operate in coordination to be a functional system. Figuring out how a human organism properly functions requires understanding how a cycle within a cycle of cycles works… in a bigger cycle. For example, the circadian rhythm is important in balancing the different stages of every organ in the body. On the surface, we are awake or asleep. Digging deeper, we have ‘falling asleep’ and ‘waking up’ stages too. At the core of the system, it’s a continuous cycle of change. This circadian cycle must be in sync with another bodily system the same way the bike rides smoother with a lubricated chain. How I see it, there is no better sport to learn about life than cycling! That is why I ride.