This petite powerhouse has fought adversity—and won.By Nancy Averett
Image by Amanda Friedman
From the August 2009 issue of Runner's World
Scout Bassett has always thought of herself as an athlete. But other people have not. When she was 12, the single-leg amputee gave her junior high school's basketball, soccer, and softball teams a shot, only to find that the coaches wouldn't give her one. "It was an incredibly awkward time in my life," says Bassett, now 20. "I sat on the bench a lot. My softball coach didn't let me play at all, ever. I didn't realize the stigma that's attached to being disabled until then. I still remember that to this day. It had a huge effect on me."
A good one, it turns out. Bassett became more motivated than ever to become an athlete; she wanted to prove to those who couldn't see past her prosthetic leg what she was capable of achieving. With a tenacious drive, Bassett transformed herself from benchwarmer to a world-class triathlete. In 2007, she won silver in the above-knee physically challenged division of the ITU World Triathlon Championships, a feat she repeated in 2008. This September, she's going for gold at the championships in Australia.
It might be easy to underestimate the power of such a tiny young woman (Bassett is 4'8", 78 pounds). Yet she's been battling adversity since she was 12 months old, when she was left on the doorstep of a Nanjing, China, orphanage. There was no explanation for her missing lower right leg or the burns and scars on other areas of her body. Her caretakers built her a makeshift prosthesis. "It was made of belt straps and masking tape," Bassett says. "It clanked and fell off." During the next six years, she was passed over for adoptions and was often put to work feeding babies and scrubbing floors.
Then one day in 1994, Susi and Joe Bassett, of Harbor Springs, Michigan, arrived. The Bassetts had flown to China to adopt a baby. While touring the facility, Susi saw a 6-year-old girl with soft brown eyes and a pixie cut, and thought, "She needs me." The Bassetts returned to Michigan with their baby and began making plans to go back for the 6-year-old girl, whom they would name Scout, and a boy they'd also met at the orphanage. Ten months later, the Bassetts were a family of five.
In Michigan, Bassett was fitted with a new prosthesis that enabled her to walk easily, but the leg wasn't designed for quick turns or sprints. So in 2001, the Bassetts met with Stan Patterson, a prosthetist in Florida who helps amputees realize their athletic potential. Patterson made Bassett a leg that allowed her to run and move with agility. With Patterson's encouragement, Bassett ran in a 100-and 200-meter dash for disabled athletes just a few hours after receiving her new leg. Even though she finished last, the experience was defining. "I was in the company of amputees who were also athletes," she says. "It showed me what was possible."
Bassett's high school didn't offer track or cross-country, so she played golf and tennis. Then in 2006, when she enrolled in UCLA on a full academic scholarship (she's now a junior communications major), Bassett decided to get serious about running—and biking and swimming.
Patterson made her two new legs, one for biking and one for long-distance running. Bassett's new running prosthesis was advanced—but heavy. At first, she could barely run 100 yards. Still, she stuck with it, and within three months, she finished her first triathlon (sprint distance). "I didn't feel disabled," she says. "I felt strong and alive. It was empowering."
That's a message Bassett, a spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, conveys to the athletes she mentors and the students and executives she addresses. "Everybody has challenges," she says. "No matter what your obstacle is, you can overcome it. Take small steps. As time goes by, the steps will get bigger and you will reach your dream."
This summer, Bassett is squeezing extra running into her training. In addition to the seven triathlons she has scheduled for the rest of the year, she's also planning to do the Silver Strand Half-Marathon, her first distance run, in San Diego in November. Her ultimate goal is to compete in an Ironman and in the 2012 Paralympic Games. Her upward trajectory should surprise no one, says Creighton Wong, a challenged athlete and friend. "She competes and she competes hard," he says. "Don't let that cute smile fool you."