On June 24, the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Team announced its roster for the upcoming 2020 Toyko games.
Just one day earlier, In The Know spoke with track and field athlete Scout Bassett. The 32-year-old is a 2016 Paralympian, a world record holder and a former gold medalist at the 2019 Parapan American Games.
For some, the timing of the interview may have seemed ironic. In less than 24 hours, Bassett would learn whether or not she’d be traveling to Japan and, yet again, representing her country on a global stage. Bassett, however, saw the timing a bit differently.
“No matter what, I’m going to continue to train,” she told In The Know. “There’s a lot of things that I feel like I still have left to accomplish as an athlete and as a runner. And I’m still prepared to go forward with that.”
If you know anything about Bassett’s career, that reaction makes a lot of sense. Even for an elite athlete, Bassett’s work ethic is striking.
In 2019, the track-and-field star told ESPN about the early days of her career. She quit her full-time job in 2015, sleeping on couches and inside her car as she trained for the Paralympics. For food, she lived on around $25 per week, which meant a lot of instant ramen.
Bassett’s training regimen has changed a lot since then. She still eats instant ramen, but now it’s more of a treat than a necessity. She’s also started using a Peloton. It’s a habit that Bassett, like millions of others, picked up during the pandemic. She fell in love with the classes and the sense of community she got from competing with other users.
In fact, Bassett embraced the culture so strongly that, earlier this year, Peloton announced her as a part of its Champions Collection. It’s a group that features nine of the world’s most elite athletes — including Bassett, track superstar Usain Bolt, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, German tennis star Angelique Kerber and professional surfer John John Florence.
Even with this exciting recognition for Bassett, her mentality is the same. The track star told In The Know that, in many ways, her philosophy hasn’t changed at all since those early days.
“Whenever I’m struggling or whenever I doubt or question myself, I remember and think back on everything that I’ve overcome in my life,” she said. “Especially that phase of my life where I had no sponsors, no supporters, and I was doing this because of pure love and passion of the sport — and it’s still the thing that drives me today.”
The past is important to Bassett, which is why in interviews, she often discusses her childhood. The Paralympian was born in Nanjing, China, and spent her earliest years at an orphanage after losing her leg in a fire. At age seven, she was adopted by a couple from Michigan and moved to the U.S.
Bassett’s new town was mostly white, and at first, she didn’t even speak English. She told In The Know that she often felt like an “outsider.” Sports helped her participate, although they didn’t fix everything.
“I really struggled just in so many ways during this chapter of my life with acceptance and inclusion and even, you know, just how I saw myself and my own self-confidence,” she said.
At age 14, Bassett had what she calls her “breakthrough.” It came in the form of a running prosthetic, which allowed her to see sports in a whole new light.
“It changed the course of my whole life and gave me this passion to run that I had never had,” she said. “And fast forward [a few years], I end up going to UCLA on a full scholarship. And it was at UCLA that I found out about the Paralympics.”
Within about a year, Bassett found herself headed to Rio de Janeiro. She competed in the 100-meter sprint and the long jump and, while she didn’t take home a medal, she did get to “live her dream.” She’d arrived. She’d worked and worked and made it to the highest level.
These days, Bassett is so much more than just an athlete. Her Instagram bio says she’s a “doer,” which feels pretty accurate. She’s a model, a motivational speaker and an ambassador for brands like Peloton and Nike. She’s given TED talks. There’s even an American Girl doll modeled after her.
It’s important to Bassett that she leaves an impact beyond the track — especially when it comes to younger athletes. Bassett sees her fame as both a privilege and a responsibility. As she told In The Know, inspiring kids to work hard and follow their dreams is the “most important legacy” an athlete can leave behind.
“Obviously, it is a dream to live this dream,” Bassett said. “But if I’m not helping other kids and other people to see that same dream and to live it and make it possible for them, then I haven’t done my job.”
Bassett won’t be heading to Tokyo this summer, but she’ll still be training. She’ll be back out there on the track, or at home on her Peloton, working and fighting and striving for greatness. It’s what she’s always done, and what she’ll keep on doing. For her, that’s what matters most.
“The most important wins, most important achievements in life, have nothing to do with an outcome, a medal, a performance,” Bassett said. “But rather the most valuable wins in our lives come from having the courage and the perseverance to know your ‘why’ and to build your life around that answer.”
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If you liked this story, check out In The Know’s interview with Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon.
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