By now, provided you've survived the East Coast earthquake everyone's freaking out about, you've heard the unfortunate news out of Knoxville, Tenn.: Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
The Tennessee Lady Vols coaching legend -- who has the most wins in the history of college basketball, men or women, with 1,071 -- is handling the news in her typically fiery fashion. She shared the news in the manner of an "open book" on the Lady Vols' website Tuesday, and she told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that she plans on coaching through the disease with the help of medication and mental exercises, and promised there won't "be any pity party, and I'll make sure of that." All in all, Summitt and her family -- including her son Tyler Summitt, a junior walk-on on the UT men's hoops team -- appears to be approaching the new-found challenge with incredible perspective:
“Nobody accepts this,’’ Tyler said. “And there was anger. 'Why me?' was a question she asked more than once. But then, once she came to terms with it, she treated it like every other challenge she ever had, and is going to do everything she possibly can to keep her mind right and stay the coach.”
“I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with,’’ she said. “And as far as I’m concerned it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching.”
As the News-Sentinel notes, the uncertainty surrounding Summitt's situation could make it more difficult to recruit players to play for the Lady Vols. But Summitt's doctors have told her she will be able to coach while she deals with the early symptoms of the disease and Tennessee's athletics department, led by interim athletic director Joan Cronan, has decided to stand by those wishes.
It's a remarkably brave decision on Summitt's part. Anyone who has ever had a family member suffer from Alzheimer's has seen the ravenous toll the disease takes on the mind and spirit of cherished loved ones and knows how horrific those losses can be. It's heartbreaking. But despite the thousands of Americans that suffer from Alzheimer's every year, little is known about the origins of the condition. We still don't have a cure.
Summitt's fate is unlikely to change that. But if her courageous struggle can raise awareness of the disease -- and help prove to its sufferers that life need not end at diagnosis -- then the legendary coach can have an impact that will eclipse the national titles and the winning streaks. She'll be an inspiration not just to women's basketball fans or Alzheimer's sufferers. She'll be an inspiration to us all.