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Legendary coach Pat Summitt gone too soon

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Even if you are not a women’s college basketball fan, you probably would have recognized the former Tennessee Vols coach and her intense sideline expressions. Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in collegiate sport history, has died from Alzheimer’s complications at the age of 64.

Though early-onset dementia is usually more aggressive, I am still surprised at how quickly the disease claimed Summitt.

Word of her declining health spread on social media over the weekend. After being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2011, Summitt retired from coaching in 2012 but was an active and passionate  Alzheimer’s activist. Over the last year or so, she had made less public appearances, but I had no idea her health had declined so significantly.

Again, even if you don’t care about sports statistics, Summitt’s record was absolutely amazing. Summitt amassed the most successful coaching career in collegiate history with her head coaching record of 1,098 wins and 208 losses, earning her an impressive .841 win percentage. That’s best college coaching record, male or female.

Known for her fierce competitive streak and steely-eyed intensity, players remembered Summitt as a tough but gifted coach who encouraged them to give their all in each game.

In response to her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Summitt said, “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.” After the end of her coaching career, Summitt worked tirelessly to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s by establishing The Pat Summitt Foundation.The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center is scheduled to open in December.

Summitt’s passion and dedication will be missed on and off the court. I hope her death at such a young age will at least make people take note that Alzheimer’s is not just an “old person’s” disease, and that it can claim the lives of even the toughest fighters among us. (Though one could argue that death is victory over Alzheimer’s.)

May she rest in peace, and my thoughts are with her son Tyler and the family.

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Filed under Awareness & Activism

Dementia a robber

The news that coach Pat Summitt was stepping down as head coach of the Lady Volunteers was not surprising news, but it is a sobering reminder of how dementia can rob the most vital people of their precious gifts.

My dad was not a high-profile college basketball coach, but the impact of Alzheimer’s was still devastating. I can’t imagine what would have happened if Dad had still been working when his dementia symptoms started. Fortunately, he was retired. He often mused on getting a part-time job in Ruidoso, but he never did. Then it became too late.

Tennessee Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt. File photo.

But even for those that are retired, there are chores, those daily jobs that we execute with barely a thought. But once my dad’s dementia progressed, completing the smallest jobs, like going to the post office to mail letters, or paying for an item at a store became difficult, then impossible. It was painful to watch my dad be robbed of performing the simplest of adult tasks. He was being forced back into childhood, with no hope of growing up again.

Summitt is such a strong woman and she already is a great advocate in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Maybe when people see vibrant, ultra-successful people like Pat Summitt battle this disease, they will take notice that this is an epidemic that we must focus on as a nation and world. The disease is claiming too many minds, too many lives, both known and unknown, but all loved by someone.

Learn more about the Pat Summitt Foundation.

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Filed under Memories