Yesterday Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt announced that she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. In the wake of such tragic news, take some time to read this 1998 Sports Illustrated profile of Summitt, which illustrates just how incredible a person she is.
Here’s an excerpt:
She has to lose 15 pounds, rehabilitate her knee and work out twice a day to make the Olympics … while she’s teaching four phys-ed courses at Tennessee, while she’s taking four courses to get her master’s degree, while she’s coaching the women’s basketball team. Three-mile run at 6 a.m., weights at 6:30, shower, rush to the gym to teach, dash to the lecture hall to take the exercise-physiology and sports-administration classes, sprint back to the gym to coach a 2½-hour practice, hop in the car to go scout a local high school player, burn rubber back to the gym for two hours of basketball and sprints, shower again and hightail it home by midnight to study for the biomechanics midterm.
She’s 22. She was hired to be the women’s assistant basketball coach, only to learn a few weeks later that the head coach had resigned to pursue her doctorate. She has never coached a game in her life. She has no assistant. …
At first it’s glorified intramurals, a tryout sheet posted on a bulletin board inviting women to play in front of four or five dozen fans on a shadowy floor crisscrossed by badminton, volleyball and basketball lines. Pat digs in. She sweeps floors, tapes ankles, sets out the chairs and towels, washes the uniforms on road trips. She drives the team to road games in a van, her head poked out the window to keep her awake on the drive home at 2 a.m. Behind her, her players glance at each other when the rain stops and the windshield dries and the wipers keep squeaking, squeaking, squeaking. No one musters the courage to utter a word.
She doesn’t lose 15 pounds. She loses 27. She sits on the edge of a table, pokes her foot through the handles of a sack full of bricks and lifts till her knee screams, but never when her players are around to see her. She makes the ’76 Olympic team—a co-captain and the oldest player, at 24, on the U.S. roster that shocks the field and comes home with a silver medal. She takes the Lady Vols to the Final Four seven months later, in her third year as coach. She gets her master’s degree in physical education. She has learned she can do it: She can overpower Nature and out-muscle Time—at least for a while, just like men do. She has learned, thanks to her father, about human will. How can she settle for filling her players with want now that she knows the psychic power of expect?