Friday, June 27, 2008

Scout Bassett: Succeeding in Life, One Step at a Time

Kids often ask Scout Bassett, of Palm Desert, California, if she wishes she had two normal legs. Bassett, 18, answers, “No. I have never known anything different, and it would seem weird to me. Besides, if it weren't for the missing leg, I wouldn't have the opportunities I have today!"

What she means is she has learned important lessons about overcoming big challenges to reach your goals. “When you are missing a leg, it teaches you to appreciate little things—like being able to walk and run," she says.

Scout has faced big challenges. Born in China, she was left at an orphanage before her first birthday suffering from terrible burns. Her right leg was especially damaged, and doctors amputated it above the knee.

She remembers being hungry all the time at the orphanage. As soon as she was old enough to get around, she was put to work mopping floors, feeding babies, and washing dishes.

And she had to do all that with an artificial leg that didn't work very well. “It was made of things you'd find in your garage," she recalls. “Belt straps, masking tape, nuts and bolts. It didn't feel very good, and clanked, and even fell off sometimes."

Then, when she was seven years old, a family in Michigan adopted her. Everything about her new life in the United States was better, including the improved artificial legs her parents got for her.

First she got a better leg for everyday activities. It was okay for some things, but she still couldn't play soccer or basketball.

When she was 14, she got a high-tech leg made for sports and put it to the test right away in a race for disabled athletes. “I remember being terrified because this was my first time," she says. “But my doctor said, ‘You have to start somewhere.'"

Scout was waiting nervously for the race to start when athlete Sarah Reinertsen came up and said, “I've been doing this for a while. Let me give you some tips."

Reinertsen, who lost her leg when she was seven, is the first woman amputee to finish the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. In the 2005 race, she swam 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers) in the ocean, biked 112 miles (180 kilometers), and ran 26 miles (42 kilometers). She works with an organization called the Challenged Athletes Foundation to help support people like Scout.

Reinertsen's encouragement changed the teenager's life. She lost that first race, but gained the confidence that she needed to compete. If Sarah could do it, she could too.

Training hard, she improved her strength and skill step by step. She even took up golf and tennis, and by high school, she'd gotten good enough to be on the varsity teams.

Now living in California, Scout runs competitively and also finds time to share her story with school groups.

“There are days when I study until 1 a.m. and get up at five to swim and train, and it is tough," she explains. But she has a motto that keeps her going: “The task ahead of you is never greater than the strength inside you."

“Sometimes people look at someone like me or at Sarah and think they have nothing in common with us. I tell them that even if you aren't physically challenged, everybody has challenges of some kind—maybe with family, or homework, or friends."

“No matter what it is, you can overcome that obstacle," she says. “Everything you need is inside your heart. Take small steps. As time goes by, the steps will get bigger and you will reach your dream."

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