Growing up, Scout Bassett felt like an outsider. Her earliest memories are from an orphanage in China, where she had to figure out how to live with a life-altering disability. She found kindness and hope when another girl offered Bassett help navigating the orphanage.

After Bassett was adopted by a family in the U.S., she felt had to navigate a new world and felt lost until she found running. Scout Bassett is a Paralympic medalist and now, she's sharing her story in a new book, Lucky Girl: Lessons on Overcoming Odds and Building a Limitless Future. Bassett remembers her first race with a running prosthetic on, when she was 14 years old: "I was able to move faster than I ever had in my whole life. And so to wait that long to feel wind as you're moving was just incredible."

Bassett spoke to NPR's Lakshmi Singh about how her journey in navigating her identity in this book, as part of the NPR app-exclusive series, The Sunshine Project.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Lakshmi Singh: When you were an infant in Nanjing, China, you survived a fire and lost your right leg. You were taken to the local government orphanage and you found a friend there, another girl named Hope. Tell us about her.

Scout Bassett: We gave her the name Hope in the book. That wasn't her actual Chinese name. But we called her that because she really was that for me. And in this orphanage, I was really the only person in the room with a physical disability, where I was immobile and didn't have a prosthetic until a little bit later on. But when I got there, I just got around by using my hands and my one leg to kind of just scoot across the floor. And we had trough-style bathrooms — so not actual toilets. There were several times that I fell. She would see, like, that I'd fall in, and she did her best every time. Like, we had this signal of when I needed to go, and she would just carry me to the bathroom and hold me. And when so much of your dignity is stripped, to be able to have somebody that gives you a little bit of that, for something as basic as using the restroom — she was just such an amazing, like, angel.

Singh: Well, you were adopted by a white family from the United States, and you moved to Michigan just before your eighth birthday. You were an active kid, who wanted freedom to move around. At the age of 14, you were introduced to something new.

Bassett: I received one of those carbon fiber C-shaped or J-shaped running blades. ... I had this panic attack because I'm wearing these little shorts — running shorts — and a yellow sports bra. I realized, oh, wait a minute. I can't cover my running leg.

Singh: You're essentially exposed, closed, totally exposed. And it's either own it or run.

Bassett: Yes. And being 14, I obviously had struggled to fit in and growing up in the small town. And here I am at a track meet and realizing, oh, another thing that's going to be so obvious that I'm not like everybody else. And that's what was terrifying, was being seen for the first time, having to show the world who I really am and not to be able to hide it.

Singh: I mean, things changed internally, right? I mean, something shifted.

Bassett: Yes. Because when I put on the leg, the prosthetic, I was able to move faster and quicker than I ever had in my whole life. That was the first time I ever ran, when I was at 14 years old. And so to wait that long to feel wind as you're moving was just incredible.

Singh: I have to ask. The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games are just around the corner in August. What's next for you?

Bassett: It is a full-court press, all-in for the trials at the end of July. I had a bit of a setback in the winter with personal medical things I had to deal with. And — but now we're good and excited for what's to come.

Singh: Are you able to talk a little bit about what you you encountered in the winter?

Bassett: Yeah, I had — actually, on my residual limb, I had a tumor removed. Luckily it was benign. But again, lucky girl — that is bad luck to have something like that happen in the year of the Games. But I feel energized. Boy, we went through something major, and we're now running better than we were at this point last year. There is nothing that has happened in this life that is going to be able to derail me or take me out. And I'm really, really grateful for that.

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