By Lynn Rutherford | Feb. 07, 2020, 2:17 p.m. (ET)

Scout Bassett, Nicole Hause, and Lisa Leslie participated on a panel at the Team USA uniform release on Feb. 5, 2020 in New York, New York.

 

NEW YORK — On Wednesday in Manhattan, Nike unveiled its Team USA medal stand apparel as well as the uniforms track, basketball, soccer and skateboarding athletes will wear at the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer in Tokyo.

Made of sustainable, state-of-the-art fabric, the styles range from crisp white jackets for the medalists, to bright red jerseys and shorts for the women’s basketball team and stylish, loose-fitting gear for skateboarders, all designed for maximum comfort and confidence.

To mark the occasion, on Thursday Nike gathered a cadre of elite athletes to discuss the transformative power of competition. The group included South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist; NFL running back Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants; and British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, the 2019 world champion at 200 meters.

In addition, Paralympic track star Scout Bassett, Olympic skateboarding hopeful Nicole Hause and basketball icon Lisa Leslie represented a Team USA perspective.

Here’s how Bassett, Leslie and Hause described the impact of sports has had on their lives:

From Marginalized To Celebrated
As an infant in China, Scout Bassett was abandoned following the loss of her right leg in a chemical fire. She spent the first seven years of her life in an orphanage in Nanjing, before being adopted by a Michigan couple in 1995.

Bassett grew up in Harbor Springs, a resort community of 1,600 people near Lake Michigan, where many weren’t quick to welcome someone who was different.

“I didn’t speak the language and obviously didn’t look like the people around me and just really struggled to fit in, to find my place,” the 2016 Paralympian, now 31 years old, said. “Sport was something that I wanted to be a part of almost right away. It transcends a lot of barriers.”

She tried soccer, but often felt marginalized. Then, at age 14, she received a carbon fiber running blade. It changed the course of her life, eventually taking her to the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, where she placed fifth in the 100-meter and 10th in the long jump. Currently, she holds American records in the 100- and 200-meter.

The first time Bassett ran was a turning point. Until then, she had always worn cosmetic covers or long pants to hide her prosthetic. Out on the track, there was no hiding her blade.

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“Knowing I was going to be out there and seen for the first time in my life as an amputee was such a terrifying moment, but it was also so transformative,” she said.

“The first time I ran I didn’t feel disabled, I didn’t feel limited. It felt like all of the ‘No’s’ I had heard in my life, and all of the chains that held me down, were lifted.”

Bassett vowed to never again feel ashamed of what her body looked like, a resolve that was tested when ESPN approached her to appear its 2019 Body Issue. At first, reluctant to bare the scars of that long-ago fire, she declined. Friends urged her to reconsider, and after much consideration, she did.

“I wanted to be an example to women who struggle with anything related to how they look, that they cannot change,” she said. “I wanted to own that and say, ‘You can be powerful and beautiful and strong as you are, even with imperfections. It was a really bold moment for me and I have no regrets.”

Gateway To Opportunities
Growing up in Compton, California, Lisa Leslie remembers herself as the least athletic member of her family. While her many girl cousins were playing football with boys in the street, or running track, she was on the sidelines, getting water for the other kids.

That didn’t last long. The 47-year-old Leslie’s basketball accomplishments are legendary: All-American and National Player of the Year at the University of Southern California. Four-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008). Three-time WNBA MVP. Member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015. 

“In my family, it’s on ongoing joke that I turned out to be the professional athlete,” Leslie said. “I was just more afraid and sort of on the sidelines.”

Leslie tried out for the basketball team as a 12-year-old seventh grader, inspired by a classmate named “Shae” — a nickname for Sharon — who played on the team and was the talk of her school.

“The thought that she was really popular was what really inspired me, more than anything else,” she said. “I wished everyone knew my name.”

Already 6 feet tall — she would top out at 6-foot-5 — Leslie made the team and soon fell in love with the game. Over time, she came to see it as a ticket to college. Her mother, Christine, drove a 16-wheeler truck and raised three daughters as a single parent. Compton was, in Leslie’s words, “a tough inner-city.”

“Basketball became that thing for me, that drove me to want to get out, if you will,” she said. “I knew I could get a scholarship. I just played and practiced every day, and I worked really hard in school. … I always loved to learn, so being a student of the game helped me catch up to the other girls.

“My love for the game really developed because I knew it was a way to improve my life, and the life of my family.” 

Today, Leslie coaches the Triplets in the BIG3, a 3x3 men’s professional league, where she shares her knowledge and sporting philosophy with a younger generation of athletes.

“Everyone can say they want to be the best, not everyone is willing to make the sacrifice,” she said. “What separated me, and I’m pretty sure what separates all (great) athletes, is we are mentally tougher. I was up at 6 a.m. and I was on the track, which was the hardest part, having to run a 600 and a 500 and 400 and a 150. I played basketball, but track was essential to me being fast, and having those fast-twitch muscles. I hated when it was track day, but I knew it was making me better.”

A Loner Finds Her Crowd
Not too many women growing up in Stillwater, Minnesota, choose skateboarding as their sport, Nike’s moderator remarked to Nicole Hause.

“A lot of people in general don’t skate there, at all,” Hause said.

As the 22-year-old tells it, her sheer love of adrenaline, speed and “airs” — flying high — drove her to make her own way in her hometown, a city of 18,000 known in the Twin Cities for its historic downtown along the banks of the St. Croix River.

Hause was 10 when she attended a friend’s birthday party at a skate park. She immediately knew she had found her calling.

“I had done gymnastics previously for five years, my balance was really good,” she said. “I was friends with all the boys at the time, and I was the only one who could do tricks, and I was like, ‘I really love this.’”

Luckily for Hause, her father was in construction and built indoor ramps for his besotted daughter. Still, she was very much on her own.

“I skated so much by myself, no one was into skateboarding at my high school,” she said. “No one understood. … How did I skate for four hours (a day) indoors? I don’t even know how, or why, I did that. No one was feeding into it.”

Hause graduated from Stillwater High School in 2016 and moved to Southern California. Suddenly, she was surrounded by people with their own lingo, their own fashion; people who, like her, lived to do aerials. They introduced her to the competitive world, and she is now a veteran of four X Games, which, since 2017, have been held down the road from Hause’s hometown in Minneapolis.

“It’s been a whirlwind — how I ended up here, with all of these amazing people, just from skateboarding,” said Hause, who now lives in Oceanside, California. “I’m so thankful I stuck with it, something I love.”

In March 2019, she was announced as one of 16 members of the inaugural USA Skateboarding National Team, a group of athletes who are aiming to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where skateboarding will debut as an Olympic sport.

Now, Hause is working on her second transformation, changing from free spirit to more disciplined athlete. Vegetables — not just meat and potatoes, her fare growing up in Stillwater — were added to the menu.

“When (Olympics) was announced in 2018, I was like, ‘I need to figure this out,’” she said. “I work out now, I eat better. I lift weights, I’ve put on muscle. … I’m so glad (skateboarding) is going to be on the Olympic stage now and it gets to be broadcast, so the whole world sees what it is about.”

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.