I don't know what exactly captivated me about Pat Summitt. I didn't come from a family that followed women's sports. I certainly never played basketball, routinely losing pick up games to a brother three years my junior. She did look a lot like my aunt, whose house I spent my formative years traipsing in an out of. But, I'd like to think that there was just something about her I knew was worth paying attention to, worth emulating, even when I was too young to understand how rare the Pat Summits of the world really are. She set a standard of excellence on the court, in the classroom, and in the world that players weren't just invited, but expected, to meet. She simply didn't settle for anything less. And low and behold, players rose to meet those expectations time and time again.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Pat Summitt, I never saw her coach a single game in person. But when I read the news of her death this morning, I cried in a way I hadn't cried in while. There is an inherent injustice to early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Having lost a beloved childhood teacher to this very disease earlier this year, I've seen first hand how this disease can topple even the strongest of spirits. Losing a legend at 64 will always leave the world wondering what could have happened if she had just had a few more years pacing the sidelines of the very court Tennessee named after her. How many more games might she had won? How many more titles?
Pat Summitt stepped down after 38 years, having coached 161 players to 1,098 wins (making her the winning-est coach in Division I, man or woman), eight national titles, and proudly boasting a 100% graduation rate (which is almost unheard of in collegiate athletics, sadly). But, those numbers aren't really her legacy. I've read articles and stories all day long, praising both her caring hand and her tough discipline. These stories aren't just those of her players, but of little girls who simply by growing up with her as an example in the world tried to do better. Her legacy is in people--lives changed, dreams realized, hearts touched.
And I know that to be true, because my heart was one of them. I want to be the kind of coach, teacher, and person that Pat Summitt would want me to be. And rumor has it, that's a pretty high bar.