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Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015

Keep on living, Coach

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Photo)
I jumped on espn.com Tuesday evening and a headline took my breath away. Unfortunately, it wasn't a perfect game or a new world record.

Instead it was the news that Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in men's or women's major college basketball, has early onset dementia. Summitt is 59 years old.

Even as an ex-sports writer, I can't tell you where Summitt's genius as a coach lies. I can give you numbers.

1,071 wins.

8 national championships.

84.33 winning percentage.

No losing seasons in 36 years at Tennessee.

That tells me, almost invariably, Summitt has been smarter than her opponents. Better prepared. Better equipped to make adjustments in the game.

It's the body of work of a razor sharp mind.

And now that blade is growing duller by the day. Sadly, her disease cannot be stopped -- she can only hope to delay its effects.

True to form, though, Summitt isn't stopping to feel sorry for herself. She's planning to coach the 2011-12 season and said in a Monday interview, "There's not going to be any pity party and I'll make sure of that."

Good for her. There are medications and mental exercises to try and keep dementia at bay. One of the best exercises available to Summitt may be coaching in the Southeastern Conference.

The news about Summitt hits close to home for me not because of an affinity for Lady Vols basketball, but because it makes me think of my family.

For several years, we've watched my grandma slipping. At first, it was just a small thing here and there, but it progressed. First it involved my aunt and uncle keeping a closer eye on her. Then it was taking away her car. (I'm not sure she liked driving too well anyway. She just had to after Grandpa died.)

With Mom and my aunt and uncle struggling with someone always needing to observe Grandma, they finally made the tough decision to place her in a nursing home.

The worst part for Mom is she's now seeing Dad struggle with the early stages of what appears to be the exact same thing. No one should have to deal with this once, much less two at the same time.

The doctors won't call it Alzheimer's, but I'm not sure what difference that makes. It all seems to add up to the same effects as far as I can tell.

The worst part of it all, though, is having to fight off a sense of helplessness. No, we can't stop this disease. There's no surgery or radiation or chemo, so it seems hopeless at times.

But a disease like this can teach us to value the time we have. It's about actually living our lives while we still can. Some of us who are perfectly healthy would do ourselves a favor by heeding that advice.

Based on Coach Summitt's reaction, she's already learned that lesson.