What does dementia think it is, anyway? Who gave it a right to get all up in Coach Summitt? And does dementia know who it's trying to mess with?
Don't get me wrong; dementia, at the end, is a scary, intimidating disease. If this is a truly nonreversible version of dementia, then it's only a matter of time. If retirement is matter of course and not a matter of choice, so be it. And if I had to choose anyone to fight this fight, it'd be Coach Summitt.
This is Coach Pat Summitt. You know, the one with 1,071 career victories, 8 national championships, 16 SEC titles, a gold medal, a court named after her, a legion of neophyte and established coaches who learned at her knee, and a stare that will force dictators to abdicate their throne when deployed in matters of grave national security. You think this is going to stop her?
Coach Summitt is our coach. She defines what this university is, what it stands for, where it came from, and where it's going. Thirty-seven years ago, she was doing the team's laundry while building a women's basketball team from the ground up. She was a rock, a teacher, a confidant, and about eighty other adjectives you'd care to name for thousands of people. She was getting 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament before I was born.
Yeah, this is scary for us; I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about what comes next. It's scary for Coach Summitt too, I'm sure. But next doesn't mean tomorrow, and it may not even mean next year, and it may not even mean the year after that. Dementia (and its evil cousin Alzheimer's) does weird things, and it runs on its own time schedule, and you know what happens when you run on your own schedule around Coach Summitt? You end up on the bench with your head in your hands.
There are plenty of good pieces in the Washington Post article that helped break the story (and if you've read it already, read it again), but this is my favorite:
When the season ended, Summitt decided to visit the Mayo Clinic for a full examination. For three days she underwent a battery of tests, an MRI, a PET scan, a neuro-psychological evaluation, and a spinal tap. After the spinal tap, she was told to remain lying down for 20 minutes. Sitting still is not something that comes naturally to her. Five minutes later she announced, "I feel fine," and jumped off the table. A nurse looked at Tyler, and lifted an eyebrow. "I’m not going to be the one to stop her," the nurse said.
Don't worry about Coach Summitt. (We'll have plenty of time for that later if worrying's your thing, but if you're doing it right now, you're gonna get The Stare.) If you want to do something for Coach Summitt this year, attend a game. Attend multiple games. Watch the games on TV if you can't attend. Show your support for her with your voice, with words, with some token of appreciation. I'm coming back home to visit, and it's not for the basketball team - it's for this team. Be supportive. It's not about what comes next; it's about what comes now.
Maybe it's my sense of unbrindled optimism. Maybe it's that Coach Summitt isn't the kind of person who'll fatalistically accept this diagnosis and make plans for life without basketball, and maybe it's that I'm not ready to fatalistically accept this diagnosis and make plans for life without Coach Summitt. All I ask is that I'm not the only one. We have time, you know. It may not be the 15 years or more like we wanted it to be, but we have time.
And yes, dementia may end up winning in the end. But it's going to spend years on the wrong end of The Stare first, and with a legion of supporters giving it the stink-eye. I wouldn't want to be in its shoes.