Thursday, April 18, 2013

184: The Self Empowered Woman: Pat Summitt

Dear Followers,

Everyone knows that I love to spread the word about interesting women who have chosen to live high-achieving lives, and today's profile is of a truly remarkable Self-Empowered Woman. For 38 years, Pat Summitt was the woman's basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, and is considered by many to be the most successful coach in N.C.A.A. history. She has had 1,098 career victories and has won eight national championships. In addition to her basketball honors, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation's highest civilian honor).

Now known as the head coach emeritus of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer basketball team, Summitt was born Patricia Sue Head in Clarksville, Tennessee on June 14th, 1952. Growing up, the only day her family didn't work was on Sunday because that's when they attended Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church. Her family (and her father's family) had been members for over 50 years; "We were taught that you didn't talk about faith; you showed it through kindness to neighbors, and humility, the recognition that none of us was more valuable than another" (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

She grew up with four brothers and a younger sister, and her strong work ethic came from all the hard work they did on the farm growing up. They had cows that had to be milked seven days a week, at five am and again in the evening. They grew all their own vegetables in a huge garden, and as she put it, "There was never a day without some heavy lifting.  We got off the school bus and went right into the fields, or vegetable rows, or the barns. Some days I might plow... My father would tell us what our job was and then walk away to his own chores. He expected us to get it done without wasting time by standing over us. The was no balking, or dragging, and you knew better than to whine."

Summitt won a silver medal in the Montreal Olympic Games even though she was told that she'd never make the team because she was too out of shape and overweight. Just hearing the word "No" sent her into overdrive and she trained five or six hours each day, ran several miles each morning, played in pick up games with men, lost 27 pounds, and was in the best shape of her life when it was time to compete in the USA Trials (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Obviously, basketball--both as a player and as a coach--has played a major role in Summitt's life. In her words, "It was my life, my home, and my family, and the players were the second-deepest love of my life... Coaching isn't social work, but it's more than just a game--it's a heartfelt vocation, in which you are powerfully bonded to students who need you" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

While Summitt varied her "look" from the sidelines over the years (everything from Laura Ashley puffy-sleeved dresses to pants suits with neckties), her appearance had been "unusual" since childhood. By the fifth grade she was 5' 9", by the age of 15 she was 5' 11", and she was so skinny that her nickname was "bone" (6: Life is Not a Beauty Pageant).

Hard as it is to believe, when Summitt began coaching, girls' basketball in Tennessee's middle and high schools consisted of half-court games (Oklahoma, Texas, New York, and Iowa were the only other states that felt full-court games would be to strenuous). Because she worked hard to overturn the rule, she was deeply unpopular with people who felt there was no need to adhere to the "weak and awkward girls" rationale. Throughout her career--both with her players and other coaches--Summitt never worried about what other people thought about her (5: Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).

In 1980, she married R.V. Summitt, but the two divorced in 2007 (15: Forget About Prince Charming). Their child, however--Ross Tyler Summitt who was born in 1990--truly became the love of her life. She had suffered four previous miscarriages, and he became not only the focus of her life, but a popular fixture at all of her games and practices. (16: Intensive Motherhood).

In August 2011, Pat Summitt announced that three months earlier she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. As a result, she was forced to turn over coaching duties and reluctantly accept retirement. In her words "The only way to deal with trouble of this magnitude was to face it--and admit to the fact that I would need a lot of help. It wasn't easy to reverse roles, to admit that I was struggling and need care. Surrender didn't come naturally to me, and neither did vulnerability" (12: Hard Times)

Pat Summitt was named number eleven on "Sporting News" 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time, and was the only woman on the list. In her 38 year career, she never had a losing season. And she is the only coach to have won a silver medal as an Olympic team member, and a gold medal as a team coach.  And as if that weren't enough, her third book "Sum It Up" is the number one non-fiction book on the New York Times best seller list!

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, April 12, 2013

183: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mousketeer

Dear Followers,

An article I wrote in connection with Annette Funicello's death appeared in yesterday's Palm Beach Post newspaper. Since most of you know about my decades-long wrestling match with MS, I thought I'd share this with you:

The Mousketeer with MS

When I heard that 70 year old Annette Funicello had died on Monday, I was—like millions of her fans—saddened. But because I suffer from the same disease (Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis), I was also scared by the news of her passing.

Like her, I lived in L.A. when (three years before she was diagnosed) I received the frightening news that I had MS, and needed to get my “affairs in order and plan for the future.” But (perhaps because I ignored the advice of neurologists and refused all medication?) I have managed to coexist with this disease without losing either the ability to communicate or to enjoy life.  Click this link to watch a brief Canadian video about the former Mouseketeer

As you watch the completely paralyzed woman who was the Miley and the Britney of the Baby Boomer generation (she recorded 19 albums and made 19 movies), it’s impossible to believe that she was once celebrated all across America for her energetic beauty.

Over 400,000 Americans have MS (Multiple Sclerosis is named after the “many scars” or lesions that affect brain tissue and/or the spinal column). And because those lesions can show up in a wide variety of places, each case of the disease tends to be unique unto itself.

Some people retain motor skills and the use of their arms and legs, but lose their vision and/or the ability to speak. My diagnosis came in 1984, I’ve been wheelchair dependent since 1990, and although my voice and vision are strong, the only parts of my body I can move at will are my left arm and hand.

Like Funicello, I also have a loving (extremely patient) husband who doesn’t mind the expense and inconvenience of having a dependent and disabled spouse. Not all MS patients are so lucky…

Although I never interviewed Annette Funicello, my earlier (i.e., healthy days when I could walk and type) career allowed me to meet scores of entertainment celebrities. Without exception, Hollywood insiders have said for years that she was as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. And an inspiring example of her kind nature was that—in the midst of her decline and discomfort—she established the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases to help finance research into the cause, treatment and cure of MS and similar diseases.

Now that she is gone, I refuse to remember her as the unrecognizable disease-ravaged woman who was dependent upon round-the-clock care. To me, it is unspeakably sad that only after receiving CCSVI vascular angioplasty could she even manage to blink her eyes in order to communicate on command.
As a fellow unwilling MS warrior, I choose to remember her smile, her sweetness, and her insistence that “My life has always been filled with happiness.”

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, April 5, 2013

182: The Self-Empowered Woman: Stevie Nicks

Dear Followers,

Like most baby boomers, I spent years enjoying the music of Fleetwood Mac, especially the vocals of Stevie Nicks (like me, a child of the Southwest but a true California Girl). So when I saw her episode on Oprah's Master Class, I was sure that she more than qualified for inclusion as a Self-Empowered Woman, albeit a complicated one--hope you agree!

Stephanie Lynn Nicks was born on May 26th, 1948 in Phoenix, Arizona, and during her childhood lived in Albuquerque, El Paso, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a corporate executive who (like mine) was frequently transferred from one town to the next. Her paternal grandfather, Jess Nicks, had been a struggling country music singer, and he taught Stevie how to sing duets with him by the time she was four years old (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

For her 16th birthday she received a Goya guitar, and wrote her first song "I've Loved and I've Lost, and I'm Sad But Not Blue." During her adolescence she continuously played Janis Joplin records and lived in her "own little musical world." While attending Arcadia High School in Arcadia, California she joined her first band (9: Music).

Stevie met Lindsey Buckingham during her senior year at Menlo Atherton High School at a party where he was playing "California Dreamin" and she sang harmony with him. Several years later he contacted her to join his band Fritz, which would later be an opening act for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin--two stars who inspired Stevie's on-stage intensity. Both Nicks and Buckingham were attending San Jose State University: she was majoring in speech communication, and planned to become an English Teacher. But in 1968, they dropped out of school and moved to LA in hopes of launching their music career. At this point, her family cut off their financial support, and she worked for several years as a waitress (14: Risk Addiction).

In 1973, the couple released their first album, "Buckingham Nicks," but it was not a commercial success. The next few years were challenging because Lindsey found work playing the guitar in Colorado for the Everly Brothers, and Stevie was left behind doing menial work. It was during this time that she wrote "Landslide," which was about both her turmoil regarding their relationship and her longing for a musical career (to date, it has over three million airplays). By 1975, they were back in California and had joined forces with Fleetwood Mac, primarily because Stevie was tired of waitressing. Her hunch was right and the "Fleetwood Mac" album became a huge hit (8: Turning No Into Yes).

By this time the band had become regular cocaine users, and Stevie and Lindsey ended their personal relationship even though they were in the same band (15: Forget About Prince Charming). During that time  Stevie began a romantic relationship with Mick Fleetwood, which caused conflict within the band. Much of the 80's, while professionally successful, was clouded in heavy cocaine use. In 1986, a plastic surgeon warned Stevie that her nose was so damaged from cocaine that "The next time you do a hit of cocaine, you could drop dead."

Stevie checked into the Betty Ford Center for 30 days to overcome her addiction, but a psychiatrist in LA prescribed the sedative Klonopin (with the objective of helping her remain cocaine free). Her struggles with Klonopin turned out to be even worse, because (from 1987 through 1994) the psychiatrist frequently increased the dosage. Eventually, she became so addled by the drug that she admitted to having absolutely "no memory" of her 1989 US/Europe tour. Ultimately, she became so ill that she required a 47-day hospital stint (12: Hard Times).  

While some critics have labelled her on-stage persona (black clothes, gothic gloves, etc.) as an indication that she is a witch or involved in Wicca, she refutes this. Although not belonging to any particular faith, she told Redbook magazine that she believes in Angels and knows that she is alive today because "there was a god" looking out for her during her years of addiction (3: Belief In the Unbelievable).

In 1992, Bill Clinton used the Fleetwood Mac hit "Don't Stop" as his campaign theme song, and Stevie joined the band to perform it at Clinton's 1993 Inaugural Gala. At the time, she was severely criticised for her weight gain (which she blamed on the Klonopin); at 5 foot 1 inch she weighed 175 pounds (6: Life is Not A Beauty Pageant).

Even though she has become a music legend (over forty Top 50 hits, as well as over 140 million albums sold), and named "The Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll" and one of the "100 Greatest Singers Of All Time" by Rolling Stone, Stevie decided to stretch even farther. She decided to work in front of the camera by appearing on the TV shows "Glee" and "Up All Night" (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Stevie's only brush with marriage and motherhood came when she had a very brief marriage to the widower of her best friend, Robin, who had died of leukemia. Stevie was determined to take care of Robin's son, Matthew, but soon realized it was a misguided step. Matthew remained in her life, and she put him through college. She has several godchildren, nieces and a nephew, and has said "I have lots of kids. It's much more fun to be the crazy auntie than it is to be the mom, anyway." She made a conscious choice not to be married or have children because that sort of commitment would interfere with her demanding career. Her choice was to follow her art wherever it might take her. "My mission maybe wasn't to be a mom and a wife; maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In addition to her Fleetwood Mac tours, she has also made 14 single tours as well. In 1998, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as a solo artist has received eight Grammy Award nominations (plus another five as a member of Fleetwood Mac.) 

Looking forward to your comments...