Nearly two decades into her career, Scout Bassett says some may try to write her off but she remains unphased and proves them wrong. The San Diego-based Paralympics sprinter—she competed in Rio 2016 and earned gold at the 2019 Parapan American Games—openly shares her story of resilience. Born in Nanjing, China, Scout lived in an orphanage as a child and lost her left leg in a fire. At seven, she was adopted by an American family, and by 14, began her training that would eventually lead here today: a world record holder, a professional athlete, and an advocate for the disabled community. Ahead, she shares what she’s training for next and how her ability to keep her eye on the prize has little to do with medals.
ON TRAINING AT AN ELITE LEVEL
I wish people could spend a day seeing what my training and life are like because I think people have this perception that Paralympics is participatory—anyone who wants to do it can come and compete at the highest level—and it’s not that. There are only three medals in each event that are given out. There are no participation awards or certificates. I wish people knew the amount of sacrifice, dedication, but more importantly, the mental strength that’s required to do this.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF REPRESENTATION
Growing up I didn't have any examples of someone who looked like me who was doing the things I wanted to do, having the dreams that I had. I didn’t have a mentor or role model, and part of it was because people with disabilities weren’t as visible. You didn't see them in mainstream marketing, media, or fashion. That’s a big part for me: Representation really matters. And in putting myself out there to be an activist, to speak out, I hope somebody else sees it. What guides me in my career is the idea of helping. Will this possibly help somebody else to take something that they cannot change about themselves—in my case, my disability—and to have security, to really own it?
“People with disabilities offer so much perspective, so much unique life experience, and a unique skill set that has been quite untapped.”
ON CHALLENGING THE WORKPLACE STATUS QUO
One of the things we don’t see a lot of in the workforce is people with disabilities. There’s a much different, systemic issue that’s related to it. People with disabilities make up the largest unemployment group in our country. It’s a hiring problem. It’s difficult for employers, too. They see a lot of challenges among people with disabilities and I hope to change a little of that stigma. People with disabilities offer so much perspective, so much unique life experience, and a unique skill set that has been quite untapped.
The best career advice I ever got—and the best advice that I could give to somebody—is never attach your worth to a person, a place, a company, an organization, an achievement, a title. Attach your worth and value to a purpose, because that's how you keep your power and your peace.
ON HER OFF-TRACK PERSONAL STYLE
Because I’m an athlete, I like mixing a little bit of athletic wear with business wear. Maybe it’s a suit but I’ll add sneakers to it instead of heels. I like people to know my background.
ON CREATING A LEGACY
I’ve been doing this for a while and at this part of an athlete’s career most people consider me old and write me off. And that’s okay, I sort of embrace that because I know that my best is still ahead. Not only in my performance as an athlete but also in the impact that I’m going to be able to have in the next several years and going forward. I have big dreams and goals. All of it is centered on leaving a legacy that helps young girls be able to pursue sports, and also for women with disabilities to feel empowered to be confident.
“I have big dreams and goals. All of it is centered on leaving a legacy that helps young girls be able to pursue sports."
ON DOUBLE STANDARDS
Our society treats women with disabilities very differently than men with disabilities. Men are celebrated as heroic, bionic, brave. Women are largely portrayed as having a deficiency or aesthetically not beautiful or perfect. I want women with disabilities to feel that they can do anything that they dream of and nothing is outside of their reach.
ON WHAT’S NEXT
The longer goal is the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, and the World Championships also in Paris next year. I’m also on the athlete commission for LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The goal is to support a significant number of women who'll be competing at those games. And personally, I’m launching a fund that will specifically support young women with disabilities pursuing Paralympics. There are far fewer women than men competing, we haven’t even seen 40% participation yet. There is a big access problem, there’s a perception problem. When I started doing Paralympic training I was living out of my car, on my friends' couches—there was no monetary support for people with disabilities. Today, there is still not enough so the idea of the fund is to financially support girls pursuing Paralympics and elite level sports.