It is only fitting that I start with the “numbers.” What numbers you ask? Well lets take a step back and talk about the who first, this week the legendary and winningest college baskettball coach in Division I history, Pat Summit passed away at the young age of 64 of Alzheimer’s. So let’s go back and get to those numbers to give you some perspective on her life, her accomplishments and impact she made:
2: Medals won in Olympics
7: NCAA Coach of the Year awards
8: National championships
12: Olympians coached at Tennessee
18: Final Four appearances
21: Number of All-Americans coached
31: NCAA tournament appearances
38: Seasons coaching the Lady Vols
112: NCAA tournament wins
.841: Career winning percentage
1,098: Career victories
$8,900: Summitt’s 1st salary at Tennessee
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Arthur Ashe Courage Award Winner
100% of her players graduated with a college degree
Let’s, for a moment, focus on that last stat. Every single player that has come through and played for her at her program has earned a degree. That is a staggering stat to be honest, I am not sure you can point to any other coach with a meaningful record as that for as long as she was at her post. What makes this stat so meaningful is that she cared for her players beyond the court, beyond their record, she cared for what they would do with their lives in the future after they were done playing for her at Tennessee. That is what matters most. If you look at men’s college basketball, you will have to stretch far and wide to find many coaches with the same record in that manner, maybe just a handful.
If you dive a little deeper, than you realize that her legacy started in a time where advancement of women and women in athletics was well, not as advanced as what we see right now. She became the head coach for the Tennessee Vols at the age of 22! What were you doing at 22? Her commitment to coaching, teaching and her players and their development was unflagging. So much that in her early years of coaching she drove them to games in a team van, and held doughnut sales to help pay for team uniforms. She came a long way baby! Her toughness, persistent desire to succeed and her ultimate focus trickled down to her team making her the winningest and most beloved coach.
Then the game changed about 5 years ago, Summit started to notice changes in herself that were not common of the fierce, feisty and on-point head coach. She was starting to get abnormally forgetful in her daily activities and even during games. In the off season she visited the Mayo-clinic where they discovered early onset Alzheimer’s. What the blow that could have been to someone still young at 59 with a legendary career and still so much to give and live for. In only Pat Summits way, she said very simply no pity party here, we’re not gonna sit around and feel sorry for Pat Summit, no thank you. This fighter was in for the fight of her life more than any game she could have faced in her 38 years.
Only 8 months after her diagnosis, Pat Summit the leader, Pat Summit the fighter, Pat Summit the teacher walked away from her passion and from the court. She started the Pat Summit foundation for Alzheimer’s research and finding a cure to a disease that robs so many of their memories and their lives. A disease that surely affects an entire family when a person is diagnosed knowing there is no cure. The coach being the fighter that she has always been, took this disease head on like only she could. A real role model for so many young girls to look up to her legacy is forever set in stone. Her openness and willingness to share and be open about her struggles with her diagnosis will almost certainly help others not live in fear. Yet another win for the coach. While accumulating her wins, championships, Olympic medals, graduating her players to become successful adults off the court, she also managed to raise a son, Tyler and write 3 best-selling books….in her spare time.
Only a short 5 years after learning of her diagnosis, the disease has taken one of the greats from us in a year when so many legends have fallen and passed. Her accomplishments will continue to be felt not just in sports, but in college athletics in general and beyond. I’ve linked her inspirational books below and some of her motivational quotes. Maybe reading them is exactly what you need today, to push forward, strive to excel and showcase your own talents that are within you.
Understand this if nothing else, WE ALL, I repeat ALL of us have super-extraordinary level talent within us….all of us, not some of us, all of us. What can you do today to feed that which is waiting and eager to come out? It will take your focus and utter determination for you to succeed, but what will you do if you do not try? Will you feel any better? I don’t think so…..Life is a game so play it well, learn from the failures and improve to win and accomplish your goals.
Nicole L. Rymer
The PowHer Hub