'Blade Runner' triumphs over adversity in sports

Chinese-American athlete Scout Bassett has some advice for the disabled in Shanghai: Fulfill your potential and don't let others define who you are.
Ti Gong

Chinese-American Scout Bassett, 29, is on track to fulfill her dreams of a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. “I’m proud to have been born Chinese,” she says.

“Disability is a perception, which exists only in the mind.”

The words of Paralympics sprinter and long jumper Scout Bassett, who was in Shanghai this week as an American sports envoy, come from the heart. They are meant to inspire people with disabilities to challenge life to the fullest of their potential.

Bassett, 29, who is of Chinese origin, gave talks earlier this week at the Shanghai International Studies University Affiliated High School and the Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School. Before departing, she also met several visually impaired runners.

Bassett was born Zhu Fuzhen in Nanjing but abandoned as an infant after she lost her right leg in a chemical fire. After seven years in a government-run orphanage, she was adopted by an American couple from the state of Michigan in 1995.

Sports provided a way out of the despair that often dogs the disabled. She started in competitive track and field events about eight years ago. She participated in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games and went on to win bronze in the women’s 100-meter and long jump last year at the World Championships.

“As I grew up, I always wanted to be involved in sports and become an athlete,” Bassett told Shanghai Daily. “It’s very challenging to try to do sports with a disability, mostly because it was hard for people to be inclusive with me. I wasn’t always welcomed to compete or play in games.”

Sidelined, she spent her younger years feeling useless and lost.

“As a result, I grew up believing that people with disabilities were worthless,” said Bassett.

That all changed when she was 14. Bassett was introduced to the Challenged Athletes Foundation and received a carbon-fiber running blade that changed her life.

“I could run for the first time in my life,” she said. “I became a young woman with confidence and a self-belief that I could do anything.”

Bassett set her sights on the Paralympics when she was a sophomore at University of California at Los Angeles. She didn’t qualify for the 2012 games but managed to join the US Paralympic Team in 2016, thanks to sheer hard work and perseverance. She finished fifth in the 100-meter final in Rio.

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Bassett (center) shares her can-do spirit, bringing smiles to students at the Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School.

In 2015, Bassett began training with American coach Tonie Campbell, who was the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist in the 110-meter hurdles. As the current world record holder in the 400-meter and the American record holder in the 100-meter and 200-meter, Bassett is now aiming for a podium finish at her third Paralympic Games in Tokyo in two years’ time.

“Training for five to seven hours a day, six days a week is demanding and sometimes painful,” she said. “But when I’m reminded of my goals, I stay focused.”

In 2016, she visited the Nanjing orphanage where she grew up, though it had moved to a new location. She met two veteran employees who still remembered her.

“They finally recognized me, but it took them a while because I was pale as a child and now my skin is tanned due to all the outdoor training,” said Bassett.

The visit was an emotional one.

“It’s always challenging to go back to a place that doesn’t conjure up the happiest of memories,” she said. “But I’m happy I made the trip because it was very healing for me. I realized that my life had sort of come full circle. I have achieved pretty much all of my dreams, and I’m living a life that I could have never imaged. I wasn’t okay then, but I’m okay now.”

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Bassett runs along the Huangpu River walkway in Shanghai yesterday morning with a local girl who is visually impaired.

Bassett said she has no negative feelings toward her biological parents, though she doesn’t know their whereabouts or circumstances.

“I hope that no matter where they are, they would be very proud of who I am and what I have done with my life,” she said. “I’m proud to have been born Chinese. In our sport, you don’t see many Asian runners. For me, it’s important to represent Asian women athletes.”

Most of all, she is determined not to let the perceptions of other people to define who she is.

“I still face difficulties, not necessarily physical,” she said. “It’s more about having the mental strength to overcome setbacks. My coach is a huge inspiration for me. My passion now is to help people with physical challenges — help them gain access to adaptable equipment they need to be active and even get involved in sport.”

She added, “People with disabilities need to be recognized and valued. They need to be seen as worthy members of society. They have contributions to make. We just have to give them the opportunity.”

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