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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Kara Lawson fighting Alzheimer's with her coach

By Kara Lawson

Text message, Pat Summitt: "Call me"

Missed Call: Pat Summitt

Voicemail, Pat Summitt: "Hey Kara. Give me a call."

It wasn't really unusual for Coach Summitt to call or text, even though it was close to midnight. But it was unusual for her to do both. I called her back, but got no answer. Then I started to get nervous. I went to bed that night wondering why my coach had tried to reach me, leaving messages saying nothing more than "call me."

Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault had given us Tuesday, Aug. 23, off. After a brutal stretch of six games in 11 days, I planned to sleep in. I was sleeping pretty lightly when another text message came across my phone around 8 a.m., this time from Tennessee assistant coach Mickie DeMoss. The message was different, yet very much the same, "I need to talk to you today." At this point, I was really concerned, and I knew that something was wrong. I called Mickie back and again, no one answered.

After Mickie didn't answer, I knew I had to find out what was happening. I called the one person who I knew would tell me what's going on. I won't say the person's name but I promise you, anyone who knows Coach Summitt knows when you need to know something, this is the person you call. That person filled me in on all the details. Mickie DeMoss called me shortly afterward and a day filled with every kind of emotion you can imagine began.

I'm not sure if I was angry or sad first. I think it was a combination of both with a little fear mixed in. I didn't necessarily fear the disease, I feared why Pat chose to make the announcement at that point. My husband and I had been in Knoxville with Pat and Tyler preparing for the WNBA season when Coach made her trip to the Mayo Clinic. She returned with a hopeful perspective about what was ahead without even a small inclination that something was seriously wrong. Did something change? Did her condition worsen? Did something happen that was prompting this sudden announcement?

It turns out nothing really changed. Pat just wanted us to know. She wanted her friends to know, her family to know. She wanted the media, her players and her colleagues all to know. It wasn't the disease she wanted us to know about. It was the fact that she was going to be OK. Those close to her knew something was wrong. We didn't know how serious; but we knew there was something. Now we know. And that's that. "No pity party," Pat said. And she meant it. Don't even try it.

It was that "we will survive this" spirit that ultimately turned my day around.

I had been getting interview requests from the moment the news broke. Damien (my husband) had been fielding all the phone calls and dealing with the emails. The AP called, the New York Times and papers from Knoxville and Connecticut all wanted to talk. I couldn't do it. I decided to do one interview; the 6 p.m. "SportsCenter" with Linda Cohn. That's it.

The call came from "SportsCenter" at the top of the hour and Linda gave me a quick rundown of what we would do. She asked the first question about what my thoughts were and I nearly cracked. It took every bit of emotional strength I had to get through that two-minute interview. I hung up the phone, sat down and began to cry. The day had finally caught up with me.

As my husband and I were talking I realized I still hadn't talked to Pat. It turns out Pat and members of her staff were together, so Kathy Harston, Tennessee's director of basketball operations, told us to give her a call. Finally, around 7 p.m. that night I talked to my coach. Was she down? Nope. Worried? Not a bit. Relieved? Perhaps. In true Summitt fashion she was celebrating the 91st birthday of a dear friend.

The conversation never approached the day's events. She asked how I was doing, how my health was, and how I felt the WNBA season was going. She talked to me about the Connecticut Sun and what she had seen from me and what I needed to do better. Essentially -- perhaps predictably -- she was coaching me. When the conversation should've been about her, she made it about me.

Now that my season is over, it's time to make it about her again. We've been trying to come up with a way to honor Pat and let her know we will fight this disease with her. Last week, Damien was approached about running in the New York City Marathon, set for Nov. 6. That's when the wheels started turning.

Not only is he running in the prestigious 26.2-mile race, I'll be running in the 5K celebration the day before. And we're doing it all for Pat. We're running for the Alzheimer's Association and we'll be taking donations in an effort to help this organization and all of the research it does. You can find out much more on my website (http://www.alznyc.org/karalawson/).

Pat Summitt has meant so much to so many of us. Whether you're a former player like myself or a fan who follows women's basketball, we all owe Coach Summitt a debt of gratitude. In some way, shape or form, we are where we are because of her.

Just as she is there for me every time I need someone to turn to, I will be there for her now. We will be there for her now.