Monday, March 26, 2012

We wait, we watch, we wonder about the future and Pat Summitt

Like we have so many times this season in regards to Pat Summitt, we wait, we watch, we wonder.

Was Tennessee's loss to Baylor in Monday's regional final the last game Summitt will coach? We have heard in prepared statements she hopes to return next season, and no decisions have been made otherwise. No surprise given the Lady Vols' exit in the NCAA Tournament isn't 24 hours old. But we know the Lady Vols have already lost a highly touted high school star in Kaela Davis, who reopened her recruitment after verbaling to Tennessee, noting she was concerned over who will be the coach of the Lady Vols for the next four years.

So we wait, watch and wonder. Will Summitt step down?

We have watched Summitt, albeit uncomfortably, all season. For nearly 40 years, an expectation has come with watching the University of Tennessee. Lots of orange. Winning almost all of the time. Summitt. Summitt's stare. Summitt shouting -- sometimes encouragement, other times orders -- to her team from the bench. Summitt postgame being as candid and thoughtful as any coach, any sport on the planet.

Not so this season. Instead we've watched Summitt out of the corner of our eye, perhaps sometimes pretending not to. But inside we can't help but wonder. How OK is she? Does she know what's going on? Does she ever close the door and say, why me? Our eyes watch every time the camera wanders her way. We want to see if there are signs that we recognize -- a penetrating look, perplexity with her team's lack of focus. Instead we usually see a different, quieter Summitt -- reserved on the bench, a listener in the huddle who is rarely in front of a microphone.

This is all new territory for us. We've never seen a larger-than-life figure deal so publicly with Alzheimer's disease. Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer's. So did Charleton Heston. While neither completely disappeared initially, they were rarely seen in public after the diagnosis was made.

Summitt hasn't disappeared. She's started a foundation. Orange shirts read "We Back Pat." While she's delegated most media duties to her assistants, she has spoken publicly this season, including the initial interview with Sally Jenkins revealing details most of us would choose to keep private.

We don't want Summitt to go away. But we really aren't prepared to watch early-onset dementia turn into full-blown Alzheimer's for the most revered figure, the most beloved woman in the sport. Admittedly we're scared, not just for her, but for us. Alzheimer's touching Pat Summitt only confirms what we already know. It can happen to our mom, our dad, our brother, our sister, our son, our daughter. It can happen to you and me.

There are many, many worthy causes out there asking for our money. Pancreatic cancer is dear to my heart; I lost my father to it, and nearly 15 years later, we are no closer to finding a cure. But Summitt has inspired me to give money to fight Alzheimer's, to read up on stem cell research, to hope against hope that while we read about others losing their minds along with their memories, this does not happen to Pat.

We wait for the cure. We wonder if it will be in Pat's lifetime, in son Tyler's lifetime. Bigger than any game, any win, any NCAA Tournament title, we wish that something will be done so we do not lose someone so precious to something so awful.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful and touching - Thank you for such a soul searching commentary!