Pat Summit has fought many tough opponents in her 37 years and 1,604 games coached, from various Stanford University and University of Connecticut teams to coaching University of Tennessee Volunteers while pregnant. Now, she faces a new opponent—early onset dementia. Coaching while pregnant didn't faze Summit. Neither will dementia.
The news Tuesday that Summit has been diagnosed with early onset dementia is startling to the world of women's college basketball. The most prolific, towering figure in the sport is revealed to have a harrying age-related disease.
To put it in perspective, this is the sports equivalent of when President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. A powerful figure was found to have a disease that would significantly affect the execution of the position.
As Doyle McManus and Jane Meyer related in the book Landslide, the journalistic story of the 1984 Reagan campaign and his second term, Reagan had battled effects of Alzheimer's long before he was diagnosed in 1994.
In fact, he had experienced symptoms during his first term.
Similarly, Summit had experienced symptoms of dementia before being diagnosed. She related that she had experienced memory loss and erratic behavior. To think that she might have experienced effects in seasons previous to the 2010-11 campaign wouldn't be surprising.
Anyway, the question on the minds of many in the sphere of women's college basketball of whether dementia will affect her coaching is plausible.
Indeed, many elderly people suffer from dementia. The condition significantly affects their day-to-day functions.
However, those who are in careers such as coaching and politics, may be affected less by dementia than others. Whereas such people with dementia might not be focused in ordinary daily activities, they key in on professional details because of familiarity with the subject; and the energy associated with it is deeply ingrained in them.
Summit will suffer all of the effects of dementia in her daily life. Perhaps, she will feel it a little bit in the locker room. The Volunteers will have fun with it. However, the opponents will not.
Summit will be intensely focused in her coaching. As she made recruiting trips and coached games throughout pregnancy, she will make strategic adjustments, scouting reads, and on-the-fly in-game play calls through her battle with dementia.
When the question had been raised whether Summit would coach the 2011-12 season, she said that she would coach the season. Since coaching is ingrained in her, Summit can best help herself by continuing to coach, keeping her mind sharp by performing in the profession that has become natural.