Despite the odds driving against her, this scientist-turned-national-champion continues to defy expectations.

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Born without a left hand, Josie Fouts has frequently been advised by others on the ways she should live her life.

But Fouts is anything but a rule-follower. "I don't fit the cookie-cutter image," she explains, noting that, when others would offer suggestions on living with her disability, Fouts would usually find different (and better) methods. "I was going to get nowhere [in life] if I cared what everyone thought about me."

"That really set the precedent for me not following instructions," Fouts laughs.

Despite only recently making her mark on the cycling world, Fouts has always been passionate about health. The Asian-American, who's also an adoptee, was working as a microbiome researcher in San Diego up until 2018. Previously, in college, Fouts had studied nutrition and immunology, something her mother inspired her to do.

So when she met her current partner, Taylor Warren, a professional cyclist, Fouts started to take a serious liking to the sport. "[Warren] was riding 40, 50, 60, or even 100 miles in a day," Fouts recalls. "By relativity, I thought, if [he could] do that, I can ride 14 miles one-way to my job."

During Fouts' commutes, she found community among fellow riders, who were a constant source of encouragement — and pushed her to set her sights on the Paralympics. And in 2018, Fouts quit her job to train full-time for the event. Just three months later, she won two national championship titles and set a national record in the 200-yard time trial. (Related: This Woman Won a Gold Medal at the Paralympics After Being In a Vegetative State)

The following year, Fouts competed in over 50 races, which eventually helped earn her a spot at the Parapan American games. She placed placed fourth on the road race course.

And while the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics getting postponed due to COVID-19 was a major setback for many athletes, extra period gave Fouts a chance to recover from a shoulder injury she sustained in February 2020 while training for the US team trials. 

Despite Not Making it to Tokyo, Fouts Continues to Defy Expectations

During the US Paralympic cycling team trials this past June, Fouts placed 12th out of 18 riders, disqualifying her from the Tokyo Paralympics. But Fouts' resilient nature continues to shine through. "I'm super proud of the way that I finished," she says. (Related: How Pro Skateboarder Brighton Zeuner Is Shattering Records En Route to the Olympics)

Now, Fouts is channeling that champion energy into transforming the cycling world. Why? "The bicycle is the ultimate teacher about life," she says. "You have all these moving parts and components, and they all work together for forward momentum for this one achieved goal. That's life right there." 

For starters, Fouts is determined to get para-mountain biking on the roster of events for the next Paralympics, a sport Fouts fell in love with during the pandemic. "I want to show people that [para-athletes] can ride, we can get out on to the dirt," she explains. "We're doing a disservice to our para-athletes by limiting them on what they can and can't do."

To achieve this goal, Fouts is pushing for more adaptable bikes and biking add-ons for para-athletes. Fouts herself uses a specially equipped mountain bike with a single lever on the right handle bar that acts as both the rear and front brakes for easy use.

In the meantime, however, Fouts continues to ride for fun. "If I can just inspire people by just sharing my story, that's amazing. That makes my whole life meaningful and gives it purpose."

To learn more about all the Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Paralympics begin August 24 on NBC. 

This story originally appeared on shape.com