I was very sad to learn of Pat Summitt’s death this morning at the age of 64. I knew that she was a legendary women’s basketball coach for the University of Tennessee.But I got to know who she was through the 2014 memoir she wrote with Washington Post sports reporter and columnist, Sally Jenkins. The book is Sum It Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories,a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. In it, one of the things she talked about was her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Advocacy and awareness became Summitt’s next mission. I saw on news clips that the University of Tennessee is opening the Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic will open later this year.
Reading the memoir, I recognized that she and my aunt, who is older than Summitt, experienced similar things as their respective memories began to decline. Simmitt was also in complete denial for a while.. This was also familiar, as I pushed my aunt to go to the doctor and she wouldn’t go. Mostly, I cried along with her son, Tyler, as he adjusted to being a caregiver.
But the disease is not the person, and no one experiences it in identical ways. I am so happy and grateful that my aunt is still with me. She has lost a lot of her abilities, but she hasn’t lost her sense of humor, her stubbornness, or her love of music. She still sings some. I don’t like to think about later–when she’s not here anymore.
As I read the tributes to Pat Summitt, I was especially moved by this article by Sally Jenkins. She includes a letter that Summitt wrote in 1982 to a freshman player on the Lady Vols.