Summitt battling Alzheimer’s, Will Continue to Coach

August 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm (inspiration, sports, ut) (, , , )

University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt announced in text and video statements Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Coach Summitt was diagnosed to be in the early stages of the disease after undergoing a battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic over the summer. She informed the current squad during a team meeting on Tuesday.  Recording the video with her yellow lab, Sadie, sleeping on the sofa with her head in Summitt’s lap, she said she plans to continue coaching “for as long as the good Lord is willing” although noted that there will be more delegation of responsibilities to her three assistant coaches. She said, “Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days”.

Although most everyone was shocked to hear of the diagnosis, few were surprised that Summitt chose to battle it in such a manner. She has always met every challenge head on and this is no different.  She says her son, Tyler, a senior at UT, urged her to speak out about her diagnosis.  She plans to use medication and mental exercises to help manage the disease.  It can only be beneficial for the Alzheimer’s Association to help spread the word about Alzheimer’s diagnosis, treatment, and research. Dementia is considered to be a group of symptoms that interferes with daily functioning by affecting social and intellectual abilities. It is progressive and there is no known cure.

Summitt is college basketball’s winningest head coach. She has spent 37 years at Tennessee, having first taken the job as a graduate student in 1974. At that time, she made $250 per month, drove the team van, held bake sales to raise money for new uniforms, and washed the uniforms herself. She is an icon for all women’s sports, not just basketball. She was instrumental in legitimizing women’s sports when Title IX was passed. This legislation forced schools to finally allocate money for women’s sports that they would have never done otherwise. Title IX, by definition, prevented women from being excluded from any education program or activity. She was one of the early promoters of women’s sports and no one has done more for women, particularly women’s basketball, than she has.

Abc pat summitt nt 110824 wgBarely older than her players, she was still playing herself when she first started coaching at UT. She was on the U.S. Women’s Basketball team, and had torn her ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) just months before the Olympics. With her characteristic determination, she rehabbed herself while continuing to teach, work on her Master’s degree, and coach the Lady Vols. She helped her U.S.  team win a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics.  It is that kind of toughness that she expects from her players and that kind of toughness that will help her in her current challenge with Alzheimer’s. 

Spending much time in East Tennessee during my formative years, I was first exposed to Coach Pat Head Summitt when I was just a little tyke.  I don’t remember how old I was when I saw my first Lady Vols game, but I do know that it was not in the huge 21,000 seat Thompson-Boling Arena where the games are now played. There were not a lot of people at the first games I attended, but they were faithful, and I was instantly a fan, both of the Lady Vols and of Coach Summitt.  I desperately wanted to play for her, but sadly I lacked both the ability and the knees to do so. But I could watch and support the team. So I did.  I watched, and supported and something happened.  Under her guidance, the team grew into a powerhouse.  The Tennessee Lady Vols are women’s basketball. They may have had record-setting seasons and won multiple games at the local, regional, and national level.  But the real success, according to Coach Summitt, is in the classroom. 100% of her players who finish their career at Tennessee have graduated. That is a very impressive statistic.

I don’t know how long we will see Coach Summitt at the helm of her team, but I’ll be watching and supporting, just as I always have. This is one battle that I, for one, hope she wins.


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