Last time the US Paralympic Team Trials were held, back in June 2021, the athletic events took place at a high school track. Multiple participants told us how dispiriting it was to compete at that venue; it felt more like a bizarre flashback to adolescence than a chance to represent the United States on the global stage. So when the USOPC announced the location for next year’s Paralympic track and field trials, with a trip to Paris on the line, Scout Bassett took to Twitter (or whatever they’re calling it these days) to voice her perspective.
“Super disappointing choice,” wrote Bassett, who’s repped Team USA in international meets for more than a decade. “USATF hosting ‘24 Olympic Trials at iconic Hayward Field—fitting for the magnitude of the occasion. Meanwhile, @USParaTF hosting ‘24 Paralympic Trials at resident training center with portable toilets and no stands, lights, or accessible transport.”
It was a characteristically sharp, honest take from Bassett, who has built on her high profile as an athlete to promote inclusion on multiple fronts. In addition to speaking up for amputees and other people with disabilities, Bassett advocates for young women and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. And she’s a staunch friend to anyone and everyone who struggles with self-confidence, emotional health, identity issues, or any of the other commonplace trials that bedevil our species.
Those causes lie at the heart of Bassett’s new book, Lucky Girl, which came out yesterday. Eschewing the temptation to dash off an inspirational, kicking-adversity’s-ass account, the first-time author writes with sensitivity about struggle and loss, offering practical lessons for accommodating the hurts life throws at us and creating happiness alongside them.
“The book is for anyone who has gone through any sort of difficulties or hardships in their life,” Basset says. “They’re all things I have dealt with and, from time to time, still deal with.”
We talked with Bassett last week about the book, her new fund to promote women’s parasports, and the long arc of her athletic career. We talked about that tweet, too, and what it would take to give Paralympic events the prominence and visibility they deserve. You can buy Lucky Girl everywhere (we recommend idiebound.org) and find Bassett on Instagram, Xwitter, and at her website.
Our conversation is edited for length and readability.
Is the book an idea that you’ve had knocking around for a while? Or did something come up suddenly that gave you the impetus to write?
I think many people would expect that someone like myself would write a memoir, right? That’s sort of common in the amputee space. But I didn’t really want to write a memoir telling my whole life story “from tragedy to triumph.” I really wanted to create more of a guide, a toolkit for young girls and women. In many of the obstacles and challenges that I’ve faced, I’ve picked up some tools that hopefully they can apply in their own life if they’re facing similar challenges, such as dealing with failure and disappointment, or identity issues, loneliness, mental health. There are 10 different chapters, each one is about a different thing that I dealt with, ways that I was able to navigate it, and hopefully some help for readers to do the same.
Do you think you women today face specific challenges that create a need for this type of toolkit?
One of the things I’m most proud of is being a mentor to many young women, both with disabilities and without disabilities. When they would talk to me about various struggles they were going through, their comment was always: “You should write a book.” And that wasn’t really on my bucket list. But at speaking events and engagements, I’d hear that over and over again: You should write a book and share your experiences and what you’ve learned along the way, because it would help some other people. And one of the most profound things I was ever told was from a mentor of mine, and she said: “You never know if your story—your struggles, your hardships, the pain, the trauma, the loss—if those things might be somebody else’s survival guide. And I was just so struck by that, because I never really thought about my story in that way. So hopefully, this can be a bit of a guide for someone who’s going through a situation they think they might not get to the other side of.
It sounds like your audience is not specifically young women with disabilities. You’re also writing for readers who are considered nondisabled, or who maybe have an invisible disability. Is that accurate?
The book is for anyone who has gone through any sort of difficulties or hardships or struggles in their life. It’s all relative, right? My struggle might not look the same as yours or somebody else’s. But struggle is part of the human condition. Obstacles and setbacks are things we all face, no matter what path we’re on. Hopefully this book will offer help to anybody in any situation they’re facing.
You’ve been part of the Paralympic movement for more than a decade now. Do you feel the Paralympic movement, and parasports more broadly, are changing society’s perception of people with disabilities? Where do you see progress that you feel good about, and where would you like to see more progress?
I think sport is such a great vehicle for social change. We’ve seen that in other sports that led to big changes in terms of diversity and inclusion and social justice. The Paralympics can have that same effect, especially as we lead up to LA28 and hosting the Summer Paralympics in the US.
But I think there’s a long way to go. Paralympics is still not widely covered in the media or broadcasting. It’s still quite difficult for an average fan to watch, or for somebody who doesn’t know anything about the Paralympics to learn about them. If we went out on the street and asked someone to name one Paralympian, most people would struggle to think of someone. So I think in terms of visibility and exposure, we need to shine more light on these athletes and how great and competitive and athletic the Paralympics are. Because I’ve never seen better competition than what the Paralympics are providing right now. The depth of talent is phenomenal, and the competitiveness is great to see. So I’m really excited about what is to come, but there is still quite a bit of work to do.
Your tweet last week really caught my eye, about the track and field site for the Paralympic Trials. What’s your view about the possibility of having all Olympic and Paralympic events in one venue in one time period? They could have alternating days of Olympic trials and Paralympic trials, or a morning session of Olympics and an afternoon session of Paralympics. Is that just a pipe dream, or is there a practical way forward?
It’s all possible, and it’s all doable. We’re not asking somebody to create a brand new venue. The dimensions for the track in the Paralympics are not any different than for the Olympic trials. The races aren’t any different; the only difference is how the athletes do the event and the equipment they’re using. We are not reinventing the wheel here. And that’s not even what the athletes are asking for.
Since I’m a current athlete, I’ve struggled being vocal about these kinds of things, because qualifying for the Paralympics is very subjective to some degree. It’s not like the Olympics, where you’re an automatic qualifier if you place in the top three in your event. Yes, you’re relying on performance for the Paralympics, but you also are relying on a selection committee to take you. So athletes are afraid to speak out and really fight for what we deserve, because we don’t necessarily determine our entire fate. And I think that’s by design—there are all kinds of systems that have been developed to keep people with disabilities from having power in the decisions that affect them. The Paralympic Trials are very much set up like that.
I put out that tweet because I’m frustrated. The athletes deserve so much better. I have spoken to leadership about these things, and the response is just crickets. I don’t know that anybody will listen, but I’m going to start being a little bit more vocal about it. And as you saw, that tweet got a lot of traction. We got a lot of great support from the Olympic athletes, who were just absolutely baffled that this was happening. If we want people in this country to view Paralympic athletes as equal with Olympians, you can’t put us at a venue that is similar to a high school venue, that doesn’t even have washrooms, doesn’t even have lights, doesn’t have accessible transport. I mean, even a lot of high school tracks have those very basic things. This is not how you say we are the same [as Olympians]. So I’m thrilled that a lot of athletes supported and retweeted and liked. It’s important to educate people to make them aware of what’s happening on our side, and hopefully we can get some allies to support us.
What obstacles do the people who are in the decision-making positions raise to making this type of change?
It’s not entirely a fault of leadership. I do realize their hands are tied somewhat, because what do all decisions come down to? Money, money, money. I do understand that. But I think there are ways the events could be marketed and sold to prospective sponsors and partners who would invest in them. But it’s difficult to market an event and convince somebody to get on board when you hold the Paralympic trials at this type of venue. The USOPC needs to make a greater investment on the para side.
I saw that you have a fund now to promote para sports among young women. Tell me about how that came together.
It’s called the Scout Bassett Fund, and it’s through the Women’s Sports Foundation. Athletes get very little money from actually competing in Paralympic sport, compared to the Olympic side. I rely on sponsorships and partnerships to do this for a living, because if I just relied on prize money or national team money, there’s just not enough.
When I first started out, I was living out of my car and sleeping on my friend’s couches. I had a full-time job, so I would go and train at 4 a.m., then leave work at 6 p.m. and train another two hours in the evening. Obviously, that wasn’t sustainable at the Paralympic level. I had to quit my job and be sort of a vagabond for a while, and what I realized is that there was such a huge need for support. The Women’s Sports Foundation has collected data that 90 percent of women with disabilities are not active in parasports. Obviously, access to equipment is an issue, but the financial aspect is a massive hindrance. It’s very costly to get involved in Paralympic sport. So the intention is to support more women so that by LA28, we have a whole pipeline of talent. The fund is a place that if you have a dream, if you have the dedication and the work ethic to pursue this, we want to do what we can to support these incredible women, tell their stories, and highlight their achievements.
If anyone wants to look into that and see how they can apply for a grant, how can people do that?
There are two ways. The easiest is just to go to @ScoutBassett on Instagram or Twitter. It’s all there in my social media bio. You can also go to athletesforimpact.com/scoutbassettfund.
Is this Paralympic cycle your last hurrah? Or have you thought about what’s beyond 2024?
We’re not going to be breaking any news today. But I suspect Paris will probably be my last Games. I don’t know if it’ll be my last global competition, but probably the last Games. We will not be at LA28 competing, but perhaps I’ll be there in a different capacity. One thing’s for sure: When I am done competing, I don’t think it’ll be the last the world will see of me. I still expect to be very involved in sport in some form.
You said writing a book wasn’t on your bucket list. What is on your bucket list?
I love to travel, so whatever the next thing is will involve some of that. And I really want to get into more storytelling and talking about human experiences and journeys. I have such an interest in learning from other people about their journeys and their experiences.
That sounds like a pitch for a TV series. Roaming the globe, finding interesting stories that wouldn’t get told otherwise. I could totally see that.
Well, maybe it’s a TV show. We’ll see. I’m totally open.