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...

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