Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pat Summitt and the happily ever after we didn't get

Happy endings are for fairy tales. We know that, and yet it's hard not to hope for the "ever after" in real life sometimes.

If we'd have scripted it, there would have been one more UConn/Tennessee matchup for Pat Summitt, one more Final Four, one more national title.

No more Alzheimer's and lots more years.

Instead we lost Pat on Tuesday at 64 years young. It's clear from the massive amount of tributes and personal stories shared by media, players and friends in the last few days just how much of a collective loss this is. As my friend Maria Cornelius wrote, "How does a mountain disappear?"

We remember when the news of her disease broke in 2011, Summitt sitting alongside her son, Tyler, talking about taking on the biggest fight of her life. Summitt was larger than life, an unprecedented icon in this sport who accomplished just about everything she set out to do. If just for a moment, she seemed capable of conquering a new opponent, even one that doesn't play fair.

If anyone could beat Alzheimer's, it was Pat Summitt.

Early on, we watched her at the ESPYs; President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and occasionally she'd sit behind the Tennessee bench. But soon after, we stopped hearing from her. The interviews stopped and the once visible Summitt disappeared from public view. We haven't laid eyes on Pat Summitt in years.

In March a story about Summitt moving to an "upscale retirement resort" seemed like a cruel euphemism.

Just as the outspoken Muhammad Ali was robbed of his voice for the last two decades by Parkinson's Disease, Summitt, the greatest in our book, was lost to a disease the shrinks the brain and robs its victims long before they take their last breath.

Yet when we lost Pat for good this week, the suddenness of it,  the finality,  became jarring and profoundly sad. If you've ever lost a parent, you know the emptiness that accompanies that. It's something you carry with you the rest of your days.

Our sport will go on and so will those whose lives revolve around it, but its greatest ambassador leaves a void we don't expect to fill.

 We'll miss you, Pat. Very, very much. How we wish we could have written the ending you deserved.

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