Ava Fouts sports a hot pink bicycle helmet and highlighter yellow cycling shoes, meaning you can’t miss her as she zooms around “The Loop,” Tucson’s popular bike path.
She may not be a professional cyclist, but the 10-year-old Fouts has gone on over 200 bike rides totaling over 2,500 miles. She has completed a 60-mile ride on “The Loop” and rode 35 1/2 miles up Mount Lemmon to mile marker 10.
So far this month, the fifth-grader has racked up nearly 60 miles on her bike.
Her dad, Scott Fouts, follows closely behind her when they ride together. He documents their adventures and shows her cycling progress to her 600-plus Twitter followers.
Ava has been overcoming challenges since she was five days old, when she underwent her first surgery for a congenital heart defect. Doctors performed another surgery on Ava when she was 4. The medical procedures made Ava feel singled out.
“I would always have mental breakdowns because I thought I was too different for everyone,” Ava said.
However, her parents believe that the surgeries made her stronger mentally. Not many kids have gone through what Ava had to go through at such a young age.
Eventually, Ava said, she pushed through the mental block and began to think, “I’m different, it’s good.”
It’s a thought that resonated deeply with her mom, Julie. “Perfect is boring,” Julie Fouts said.
Cycling has been part of Ava’s life for as long as she can remember. At age 2, she would sit in a kid’s bicycle trailer hitched to the back of her dad’s bike when he went riding. She learned how to pedal independently at age 3.
Ava now keeps up with adult cyclist, matching their pace and occasionally passing them on training rides. It’s opened up a whole new world of excitement for her, her dad said.
“If there’s an adventure or a challenge,” he said. “she’s the first in line for it.”
Ava’s passion and drive for cycling caught the attention of local former professional cyclist and Homestretch Foundation CEO Kathryn Bertine, who calls Ava both “happy and feisty.”
“When those (traits) come together in a little girl, the world better watch out,” she said.
Ava and Bertine first met in March 2020, when they both were riding separately through Saguaro National Park. As Bertine passed by Ava and Scott Fouts, she waved and commended Ava Fouts on doing a great job.
“As we passed, she jumped into my draft and said, ‘You’re not going to drop me that fast, lady,’” Bertine said.
Since that day in Saguaro National Park, the two have developed an ongoing friendship over their love of cycling and “girl power.” The pair go on rides together once a week wearing their matching Homestretch Foundation jerseys. Ava is a “Little Stretchy” — a term of endearment for a foundation that calls its adult athletes “Stretchies.”
“She’s my little buddy and I’m her big buddy. I cannot tell you how much joy it brings me to be around Ava and her parents,” Bertine said. “We’ve really formed a wonderful bond that started with cycling, but it truly has become something so much more to me.”
Scott Fouts keeps his daughter’s motivation high by encouraging a reward system when they ride. After she completed her 60-mile ride around The Loop, she was rewarded with a new L.O.L Surprise! Doll and a new L.O.L Surprise! O.M.G Doll, which she described as “awesome.”
If the day were to come that she decided she didn’t want to ride anymore, Scott Fouts said that she would have his full approval. “That’s her decision,” he said.
For now, you can catch Ava riding next to her dad or with her cycling group, El Grupito, on local bike routes.
“For me, it’s fun. I get to spend time with her,” Scott Fouts said. “She’s a pretty good riding partner. We have great conversations, you know, solving all the world’s problems.”
When Ava isn’t making 30-plus-mile treks around Tucson, she enjoys climbing trees around The Loop and singing some of her favorite songs, including Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” and Ariana Grande’s “pov.”
With no plans on slowing down anytime soon, Ava has three goals in mind: Ride to Summerhaven and get a cookie from the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin, graduate from El Grupito to El Grupo’s Youth Cycling group and complete a 100-mile ride.
Her next big cycling adventure? Riding in El Tour de Tucson’s 57-mile route on Nov. 20.
“It’s impossible not to fall in love with Ava after knowing her for five seconds,” Bertine said. “And Tucson is lucky to have Ava out there riding on the roads that we share together.”
Elvia Verdugo is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing with the Arizona Daily Star.