Everything And More
August 29, 2016
Scout Bassett is 4 feet 9 inches tall. She can run 100 meters in 16.5 seconds. She can long jump 3.38 meters. She has one leg and four toes. She is 27 years old and has three 100-meter Paralympic national titles. She holds the female T42¹ Paralympic American record in the 100 and 200 meters, and the world record in the 400 meters. She has her sights set on two gold medals. Her courage can’t be quantified. “It’s a little bit of an underdog story,” Bassett explains.
When Bassett was less than one year old, a fire in Nanjing, China, consumed her right leg and one toe of her left. Soon after, she was abandoned in the street, eventually landing in a local orphanage, where she lived for seven years. Bassett didn’t receive a prosthetic leg until the age of six, and when she did it was an unwieldy contraption of leather straps, nuts and bolts. The foot was adhered with masking tape. When a couple from Michigan adopted her, Bassett weighed 22 pounds and was a size two toddler. She spoke limited Chinese and no English.
Arriving in a northern Michigan town of approximately 1,600, Bassett saw sport as an opportunity to connect with her second-grade schoolmates and capture some of the excitement they displayed when recounting their weekend soccer matches. So she signed up for the city league, but quickly discovered that sports magnified her differences. She didn’t have the correct prosthetic and, she recounts, others lacked familiarity with her disability. “We’re fearful of the things that we don’t know,” Bassett explains. “A lot of my experiences from my childhood were mainly that.”
At the age of 14, Bassett received her first athletic prosthetic and promptly…ran. “It was the most liberating and freeing experience of my life,” she recalls. “At that moment, I knew that I was born to be a runner — that that was what I was going to do with my life.” That moment formulated Bassett’s dream of competing for the national team, eventually leading the athlete to her first national Paralympic trials in 2012. In the 200 meters, Bassett’s prosthetic equipment malfunctioned. In the 100 meters, she also finished dead last.
“It was just like all my worst nightmares were coming to fruition at those trials,” she recalls. “I cried like I had never cried in my whole life. I didn’t really have any intention of continuing. Then in the weeks that followed, I remembered that I’ve always been a fighter and I’ve never been a quitter. And if I gave up, it would just be giving the critics and my competitors and people who didn’t want me there that power over me. I said, ‘I'm gonna give this another four years and give everything I have. I will stop at nothing until I achieve this goal and this dream.’”
Soon after recommitting to her sport and her dream, Bassett quit her nine-to-five marketing job and moved to San Diego to train with a collegiate coach, a track-specific strength trainer and able-body athletes, so that she’d “always have someone to chase,” at the national team facility in nearby Chula Vista, California. She also learned to eat like a sprinter. “I got a lot stronger and fit, way more fit. I was like 90 pounds when I was a triathlete and I got to like 78 pounds as a sprinter,” she testifies. Bassett also refined her technique, minimizing the energy-consuming rocking that results from being an above-the-knee amputee and changing her position on the starting blocks, from standing upright to hands on the track, which for single-leg amputees requires extreme core, glut and upper hamstring strength.
Sleeping in her car or on a friend’s couch in order to support her pursuit, Bassett improved her times, despite the less-than-ideal accommodations. Then, around a year ago, she had the opportunity to fine-tune another critical aspect of her performance equation: her equipment.
“I met with [Nike Designer] Tobie Hatfield,” she explains. “And I was wearing a spike that was four and a half sizes too big for me, but I had been competing on that spike for six years. It was the smallest spike I could find on the market.”
Following their initial meeting, Hatfield immediately fashioned a custom pair of spikes to fit Bassett’s women’s size-2.5 foot. “The first shoe came out and it was amazing,” she confirms. “Right away, I was running faster times, just by not having my heel slip up, just by not having to stuff the toe to fit the shoe. It was just suddenly easier.” Additionally, Bassett had begun sprinting without a prosthetic knee, which enhanced her stride and power, and with another game-changing design that also carried Hatfield’s hand: the Nike Spike Pad, crafted to fit a prosthetic blade.
This July, Bassett returned to the national trials, leveraging her intensive training, renewed conviction and dialed equipment into a first-place finish in the 100 meters. Her 16.79-second time, nearly five seconds under the 21 flat she was running four years prior, beat the field by more than a full second — an unprecedented margin in the 100 meters. It, along with a fifth-place, 3.38-meter long jump, earned her a spot on Team USA in Rio, fulfilling that goal Bassett had set for herself as a teenager. “I went from absolutely nothing, having nothing, being unwanted to being the very best in my country and one of the very best in the world,” she proclaims. “It gives me chills.”
A month later, Bassett has already exchanged that achieved dream for a new one: a premier performance in Rio. To maximize her chances, she has continued to collaborate with Hatfield and his team (via photos, notes, videos and in-person sessions) on the fourth iteration of her spike, to further attune every aspect: reducing the upper width and shoring its sides to provide better stability for Bassett’s four-toe foot; narrowing the toe box to allow her to better leverage its point; modifying the plate and last for a one-to-one fit; and harmonizing the spike and blade, in terms of height and traction. The designers have also tweaked the spike placement in the forefoot of the shoe to minimize point pressure and strategically situated cushioning where the nerves in Bassett’s foot are more exposed as a result of that early fire.
Then there are the final touches, like modifying the lace length and coloring the upper with the Nike “Unlimited” Colorway, a name that closely aligns with Bassett’s own summation of her journey.
“Let them say that you won’t become anything and then become everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more,” she declares. “That’s really been my story.”
1. T42 is disability sport classification for disability track and field athletics, applying to athletes with single above-the-knee amputations or a disability that is comparable.