Wednesday, May 15, 2013

tennessee girl

Driving the back roads here in Tennessee between Clarksville and Ashland City, we passed this sign. Welcome to Henrietta - Home of Pat Head Summitt. I looked closely and said, "Did you see that sign? Is that THE Pat Summitt?" I had never heard her maiden name, had no idea where she was from, I only knew her as the Lady Vols basketball coach. 

In her new book, Sum It Up, Pat describes growing up in Henrietta, Tennessee. She was made tough by hard work on the farm, playing basketball with her older brothers, and her father.

The first chapter broke my heart, where she lists all the things she remembers… then some things she doesn’t. When Pat decided to take 'Retirement with a small r' she was still very involved in the basketball program, but had some more time on her hands and decided to write a memoir, and WOW what a memoir! Like everything else she has ever decided to do, she does it well. This story is powerful and entertaining and inspirational.

I think I liked best the early years, growing up on the farm, the lessons learned early like hard work and family values. She goes off to college with her homemade clothes and her hick accent and she feels out of place with all the pretty girls with dresses and makeup. When the teacher looked at the roll book and saw her name was Patricia, she called her Pat, and it stuck, soon everyone was calling her that. But Pat was too shy to tell everyone that her name had always been 'Trish'. After a while she decided Pat sounded strong, so she kept it.

At age 22, fresh out of college, she became head women's basketball coach at UT. While the men's team played in the bigger arena, the women had the old 1920s gym. Pat would go in on game day and sweep the floor and set up the chairs. She would wash and mend uniforms. Then for away games she would load all the girls in her car and drive them to the games.

All the awards and records and stats aside, she admits her greatest accomplishment is her son Tyler, but that was not her only venture into motherhood.  All of those young girls in her basketball program were entrusted to her care by their parents, and she didn't let them down. She made sure they made good grades, she cooked for them and fed them in her home, counseled them, made them part of her family.

I wonder if early dementia is common in folks who use their brains so much more than the rest of us - it reminds me of a family friend who was recently diagnosed with early dementia. This person is so smart, can do anything, has such a keen mind, or had… Over the years she has started several businesses from scratch, building them up into very successful ones, her mind a steel trap of information, or was… I told her granddaughter that this lady used her mind to full capacity for all of her life, maybe she used it up, maybe it just needed a break. But then was sorry I said that because the granddaughter is just like her. A visit with this friend was like reading Pat's book - also heart breaking, she told countless stories of her childhood, but I had to remind her who I was.
After her diagnosis, and being told all things she cannot do… Pat listed some things she still can do. "I can continue to work as long as possible. I can decline to be afraid or self-conscious. I can try to be an example." And one of my favorites: "I can joke about it - when someone asks, she jokes, 'I've forgotten I have it.'

The memoir, Sum It Up does just that - sums up the life of Pat Summitt, her life on and off the court. I am glad she got her life story down while she can still remember it, let this be a lesson to all of us - you never know when your mind will falter, so if you have any stories from your childhood lurking in there, it is time to get them down - write your own story, start today!

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