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Coach Summitt is my inspiration

9/10/2012
Candace Parker's early fear of Pat Summitt turned into admiration. AP Photo/Tony Dejak

When I first signed at the University of Tennessee, I must admit, I was a little afraid. Pat Summitt was a 5-foot-10 woman who possessed a deep Southern drawl, paced the sidelines, yelled at refs and glared at her players. Rumor had it she vowed to make each of her 300-plus players cry at one point during their career, and she had!

Pat Summitt is inspiring to others because of the amount of wins she's accrued (1,098), the NCAA titles she's won (eight) or the years she's been coaching (38). She inspires ME because she lives by her words and she is a model for her advice.

When I first arrived on campus and received the Lady Vols' handbook I noticed a list of Pat's policies on the back, "The Definite Dozen." Quickly, I skimmed over them and one jumped off the page: Handle success as you handle failure. This specific policy is the most important lesson I have ever learned.

During my darkest days at Tennessee I never felt alone. Coach was there when I woke up from my season-ending knee surgery. She cried alongside me as I tried to piece together my life following my parents' divorce. I always had a shoulder to lean on and words of advice to follow.

Pat did as she said. The same words and advice she offered me, she followed as she publicly dealt with a divorce from her husband. In the team meeting in which she disclosed the news of her split, we were in shock at how up front and honest she was. We were a family and our leader, in the toughest times, still somehow set an example.

My four years at UT flew by. Those years were filled with ups and downs, wins and losses. Following wins, Pat encouraged us to work harder and never get complacent. After losses, we graciously congratulated our opponent and went back to work on getting better. I believe Pat was successful in coaching because her work ethic is second to none. She is successful in life because she cares.

In my junior and senior years we reached the pinnacle of success by winning NCAA titles. Pat reminded us to remain humble and give others credit because no one reached the top alone!

I watched as Coach gave her all for the University of Tennessee. Whether Pat was signing autographs, conducting interviews or spending all day at our summer camp for little kids, she did it to the BEST of her ability.

One day, I asked her how she did it all on a daily basis. Pat simply replied, "It's easy to tell people how certain things are done. Real leaders show people how things are done."

If you ever were in doubt about how truly inspirational Pat Summitt is, look only to August 2011. Courageous and up-front, Coach Summitt announced she was battling early-onset Alzheimer's.

Anyone can be inspirational in their greatest moments. Pat proves to be most inspiring in her weakest. Through her, I've truly grasped the concept "handle success as you handle failure." Pat Summitt is a constant, never-changing person. She possesses the same ideals and morals regardless of the circumstances. She will get on stage and celebrate life's greatest achievements, but also publicly battle life's disappointments. Pat is the embodiment of her Definite Dozen. She lives it every day.

Pat's eyes can see through you. Literally! The crystal-blue circles are filled with passion, pain and power! I dare you to try to stare back at that glare. Impossible. She's the pioneer of the game, but her greatest influence isn't a result of the bouncing ball and the game she helped grow. Pat Summitt coaches her players on life, and that is why she is my inspiration.