Pat Summitt diagnosed with early onset dementia

Lady Vols basketball coach has no plans to step down

University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt sits with her dog, Sadie, during an interview about her medical condition Monday at her home in Blount County. Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Photo by Debby Jennings/UT

University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt sits with her dog, Sadie, during an interview about her medical condition Monday at her home in Blount County. Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

"There's not going to be any pity party and I'’ll make sure of that."

Pat Summitt, Tennessee women's basketball coach

For such a strong figure, Pat Summitt was feeling almost helpless.

Months of erratic behavior had left the Tennessee women’s basketball coach bewildered, scared and asking herself “What’s wrong with me?”

Pat Summitt is diagnosed with early onset dementia

Summitt went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in May. She underwent a series of tests and received a stunning answer. The diagnosis was early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

Her initial reaction to learning she had a progressive condition that could impair her mental acuity was one of anger and denial. Since then, she’s moved forward in more Summitt-like fashion, formulating a plan involving medication and mental activities, such as reading and doing puzzles at night before going to sleep. She’s also taken a hopeful stance about her future.

The 59-year-old Summitt, who has 1,071 career victories and has led UT to eight national championships, is determined to continue coaching and is planning for her 38th season at UT. She has the support of the University administration.

She’s also feeling confident enough to go public with her condition. She spoke Monday night with the News Sentinel and the Washington Post and did a video for the Lady Vols’ website. She was to tell the players in a team meeting Tuesday afternoon, waiting until Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen returned from the World University Games in China.

She sounded like herself in saying: “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s is caused by the destruction of brain cells. It usually progresses slowly, causing a gradual decline in cognitive abilities. Summitt said that her grandmother — “Granny Head” — had severe dementia.

No matter how grim the prognosis, Summitt seems relieved to have a definitive answer. Small wonder, considering how low she felt at times last season. She confessed to not being as confident on the court and second guessing some of her decisions.

“There were some mornings I would wake up and think I don’t even want to go in,” she said. “That didn’t last long but it was like ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s going on with me?’ ”

Summitt also has rheumatoid arthritis and there was some question as to whether her medication for that condition was the root cause of her problems. The series of tests she underwent at the Mayo Clinic, particularly a spinal tap, served to flush an unknown opponent out into the open.

"I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with. And as far as I’m concerned it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching."

Pat Summitt

“She’s always better when she knows what she’s fighting against,’’ said Summitt’s son, Tyler. “She had recommendations, what to do and what routine to get into and she’s going to prepare just like a game for her health.”

Tyler, who’s a junior at UT and a walk-on on the men’s basketball team, accompanied his mother to Minnesota and has watched her sort through her responses. Despite being the offseason, Summitt’s calendar still was crowded with SEC meetings, summer camps and July recruiting. Tyler said that the sadness and anger lingered for at least a month.

Tyler Summitt, pictured during practice in Pratt Pavilion in April, accompanied his mother, Pat, to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and has watched her sort through her responses.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tyler Summitt, pictured during practice in Pratt Pavilion in April, accompanied his mother, Pat, to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and has watched her sort through her responses.

“Nobody accepts this,’’ Tyler said. “And there was anger. “Why me?” was a question she asked more than once. But then, once she came to terms with it, she treated it like every other challenge she ever had, and is going to do everything she possibly can to keep her mind right and stay the coach.”

Summitt said that she didn’t consider retirement. She has been buoyed by the encouragement received from Dr. Ronald Petersen, the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“He’s the one who told me you can coach as long as you want to coach and no one else had said anything like that to me,’’ Summitt said, “I haven’t talked to him (lately) and I even thought about calling him sometime soon and telling him where I am with this. He was so positive (saying) ‘You can work through this.’ ”

No amount of optimism, though, can diminish the uncertainty related to Summitt’s intentions. Tennessee interim athletic director Joan Cronan has considered the circumstances, acknowledging that the program could take a hit in recruiting but noting that Summitt’s coaching staff of Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood has 89 years worth of coaching experience with which to assist their boss.

In the end, she came back to her nearly three decades worth of experience with Summitt.

“I’m comfortable because I know her as a person and I know her as a coach,’’ Cronan said. “And I feel like if it wasn’t the right thing for her or us she wouldn’t be going forward.”

As if for emphasis, Cronan added: “We’re in uncharted waters, but we certainly have a great captain.”

Summitt has progressed from feeling helpless to being resolved.

“I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with,’’ she said. “And as far as I’m concerned it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching.”

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Comments » 189

allvolinatlanta writes:

I'm stunned! Of course if anyone can fight through it I bet this lady can.

DownTheField15 writes:

God bless her and her family. This is a terrible disease, but if anyone can cope with it, Pat Summitt can!

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

Shocked and stunned... This woman is Rocky Top.

sweetmama writes:

Pat will do the right thing for the University of Tennessee and the women's basketball program. She won't hang on to the detriment of the program. She will know when it's time to quit. My mother has dementia, so I know what this disease can do. Wishing the best for Pat & Tyler & her UT family.

GBOEngineer writes:

Not much to say, except keep fighting, Pat. The Vol nation is behind you 100%.

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

The Orange Nation will always support you.

kingofthevols writes:

She is the best there ever is. We should all rally around Pat like never before.

Down_The_Field writes:

i love this woman. she's tough as nails.

rich182x writes:

My grandmother died with Alzheimers, it is very sad and will get worse unless we find a cure in the near future. My prayers go out to her and the UT family. Go Vols!

boroviathaochvolsfan writes:

Anger and sadness to this article...you are the best Coach Summitt.

VolzsFan writes:

God Speed Pat.

Vol_From_Memphis writes:

Just the beginning of the second half of her career. She will be a LIGHT for all others afflicted with this condition. All ships need a captain. She is ours.

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

God bless you Coach.

UkJarhead writes:

Pat is the epitome of what a coach should be. Just to hear her players talk about her confirms this. A parent figure and they always talk about the life lessons they were taught. It has been hard not to be a Lady Vol fan all these years. You just have always wanted her to do well. Very sad but I can't imagine anyone fighting this as long as possible more than her. God Bless you Pat Summitt.

LiveFaith writes:

My mother just passed last year after being overcome by dementia. It was a terrible thing to watch an otherwise healthy person get devastated by this. I pray that Pat is able to overcome this. What an amazing coach she is.

Ga_Dave writes:

I got Coach's autograph last year at the Auburn game and thought then that she seemed somewhat different, but put it off to her feelings about how her team had just played. This is devestating news to our family, but our prayers are with her, Tyler, and Miss Hazel during this time. You've got the entire Orange Nation behind you Coach - you can defeat this just like you do Geno!!!! GBO, GLV

kingofthevols writes:

She has brought more honor and integrity to the university than anyone else in the history of the school.

shipperman#280095 writes:

I am an avid Lady Vols supporter and my prayers will be with Coach Summit. The day she leaves will be an extremely sad time

eweteaparty writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

wardc72 writes:

Love me some Pat Summit. One of the class acts in college athletics. And this coming from a die hard Bama fan. If anyone can beat this, Coach Summitt can.

Our prayers are with you.

cdanojohnson writes:

We love you, Pat!!!

jeanengel3203#234891 writes:

Pat, you can do it!!!!

peasandcarrots writes:

My family loves you Pat. God Bless.

A_Voice_ofReason writes:

Pat Summitt is the best thing to ever happen to Tennessee sports. God bless you Pat.

HillCountryDude writes:

Prayers to Coach Summit, her family, friends, and team. And also to all of VolNation from Baylor. Coach Summitt is held in the highest of regard by Baylor fans.

UkJarhead writes:

in response to eweteaparty:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Some class please.

Volunatic writes:

My prayers go out to Coach Summitt, her family, and the Lady Vols.

Jephry writes:

in response to RockyTopRenegade:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I felt the exact same way... I just love Coach Summitt, and I know that if anyone can cope with - and beat - this, it's her. Love and healing thoughts to our Captain!

casbah (Inactive) writes:

God bless you, Coach. You are Tennessee.

Lizard60 writes:

Sad news to hear...will keep Pat and her family in my prayers!!

MotherNature writes:

My thoughts and prayers are with you, Coach Summitt.

charlyand#601962 writes:

Pat, you're the best thing that ever happened to UT. After having a good cry, I remembered that you can never count out Pat Summitt. You're in my prayers.

hrlyridr77 writes:

Best wishes from up in UConn country - you are an amazing, strong woman, and I know you will continue to be.
I have admired you for years, I will continue to admire you, and will keep you in my prayers.
God Bless...

BigBadVol writes:

I love Coach Summitt! Pure class. Very sad news. And yet, we already have trolls making classless comments. Please get a life.

JenB (Inactive) writes:

Our prayers are with you and your family Coach! God Bless Yall <3
Rocky Top loves you and stands behind you 100%!!

VolGrad writes:

in response to GBOEngineer:

Not much to say, except keep fighting, Pat. The Vol nation is behind you 100%.

And I agree... 100%.

This will really hit her team, present and past players hard.

She is the best ever to coach the game.

ColtfanJ writes:

You are a class act coach! My daughter enjoyed the summer camp this year. Godspeed coach!

RoadTrip writes:

Alzheimer's does not care who you are.

We are losing a mother to this hideous disease. It has been nearly a 10 year process and we are in the final stage. Pat's family, friends, the university, players, fans - everyone that cares about her - need to be prepared for what happens next as it can be a slow, heartbreaking process like ours or it can be a quick, brutally hard one. All that care for her need to be there for her all of the time. Other than disease awareness and research there are no happy endings at this point. So please celebrate the gift she has been to all of us today and every day forward.

thetrollhunter writes:

If anybody can beat this disease, it's Pat. Good luck with the rest of your career, nobody has represented Rocky Top as well as you. Truly a Vol For Life

JSamson7 writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

In regards to Pat, I'm sure you will overcome this illness & I know what it's like to have someone close to you have to bear this sickness. As far as you go tnmantravel, I guess in your case that the Dr's can't fix stupid or your lame attempt at humor with Mr. OKEMO...

apd7081 writes:

Coach Summitt, my heart felt prayers go out for you, your family, and your extended Lady Vol family.

Vols1227#1401106 writes:

Prayers!!! I have lived through this - my mother - like Pat, a very strong person.. Pat has always been a "role model to me" and now my granddaughter Mariah - and grandson - Tyler. Pat Summitt IS TENNESSEE BASKETBALL, TENNESSEE ATHLETICS - I don't care who coaches the men's basketball team or football team - PAT SUMMITT IS TENNESSEE ATHLETICS. Living in Maryland, our first stop on our Tennessee visits is the UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE - THE HOUSE "PAT BUILT"...My fondest memories are attending the University of Tennessee (before Pat-but still MY SCHOOL) Love you and your family - my prayers will be with you - LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU TAKE THAT "TROPHY" AGAIN THIS YEAR!!! My family and I will "walk with you" and your family every step of the way - it's a tough road, but Pat Summitt was made "tough"..... Love you and we will continue sending our thoughts, love and prayers. Grandma Van Der Weele, Opa, and all the kids in Maryland.

VolunteerLifer writes:

Never give up, Coach. It is your nature to compete and fight at sports. You are in a real fight now, and you will respond and do as well at fighting this as anyone can. You will have tremendous support, and you will have many productive years ahead of you.

CCLC writes:

in response to thetrollhunter:

If anybody can beat this disease, it's Pat. Good luck with the rest of your career, nobody has represented Rocky Top as well as you. Truly a Vol For Life

Indeed! Well said.

MerrieLong writes:

The hubby and I both said, quite loudly, "WHAT?!" when we read the headline. She's just 59! That's just wrong. What an evil, stupid, and destructive disease.

Our family wishes you the very best Ms. Summitt. You rock, ma'am!

edro3111#259240 writes:

in response to TheKentuckyEffect:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for your comment Big Blue fan. All rivalries are put away when any of our schools or coaches need us in a bad situation. Pat is the best person I could ever imagine to plot a course of action and a great game plan to deal with this. We wish her our very best!

tulelakevol writes:

Coach Summitt, I am praying for you and your family.

TitansCharly writes:

We've got your back, Coach. All love and respect.

jone8191#247590 writes:

What else can happen to our Tennessee family?????
I have had this in my family and it is a terrible disease. Pat has been our shining light for so many years. I can't imagine Tennessee without her. Pat, you are the best!!!

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to eweteaparty:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Is your real name Geno A (and we all know what the A stands for)?

Pat Summitt has been the most steady force is UT Athletics for 30+ years.

Prayers for Coach Summitt and her family!

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