Legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt has announced she has been diagnosed with early stages of dementia linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
The 59-year-old coach led the University of Tennessee women’s team to eight national championships and says she will continue to act as head coach of the Lady Vols while she undergoes treatment.
“Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days,” she said in a video message. “For that reason I will be relying on my outstanding coaching staff like never before.”
But, she remains positive and says she is prepared to train her team “for as long as the Good Lord is willing.” With medication and mental exercise, she intends to manage the progressive condition that could lead to Alzheimer’s, which her grandmother also suffered from.
The coach says she began to grow increasinlgy concerned about her health after the last season and received a diagnosis at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She says she initially reacted with anger and denial, but is now determined to move forward and states: “there will be no pity party.”
Summitt has received full support from all her colleagues, who are set on helping her live as well as possible with the condition. Athletic director Joan Cronan said:
“Pat Summitt is our coach and she will continue to be. Life is unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for: Excellence, strength, honesty and courage. She’s ready to fight and move on. She had to come to grips with this with how she wanted to face it.”
As well as engineering 1,071 victories in 37 seasons, Summitt also led the US national team to an Olympic gold medal in 1984.
Connecticut’s 57-year-old coach Geno Auriemma spoke spoke of Thursday from Florence, Italy, where he was touring with the Huskies.
“I was shocked and saddened,” he said. “You don’t necessarily associate dementia with people our age, so this announcement really put things in perspective. I expect her to meet this challenge the same way she has the others in her Hall of Fame career – head on.”
Click here to read about blues singer Etta James, who also suffered from dementia and how more education helps the brain in compensating for for dementia related changes.
Images: Tennessee Journalist on Flikr