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Beyond the Accolades: How Pat Summitt Changed My Life

Over the next several days, you’re going to hear and read powerful stories about the late, great Patricia Sue Summitt. Family, friends, former players and coworkers, sportswriters and fans will all be sharing touching, personal moments from the life of the winningest basketball coach in NCAA Division I history. TV stations and online and print publications will remind you about her 1,098 wins, 8 national championships and 7 NCAA Coach of the Year awards. You’ll hear astonishing facts about her 38-year, Hall of Fame career as a basketball coach at Tennessee.  For instance, you’ll likely hear how the Lady Vols made 31 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and how every last one of her players who completed her eligibility at Tennessee graduated. That’s right, she made it rain in wins AND degrees.  You’ll read amazing quotes from her about competition, faith and perseverance.  You’ll undoubtedly learn about how she fought Alzheimer’s type-dementia with the same fervor that she fought on the basketball court.  You’ll hear some really wonderful  things about this woman.  And since you’ll hear all of those great things from other people, I decided that you didn’t need to hear them here, again.  Instead, I decided to share how Pat Summitt, a woman who I never met and who didn’t have the slightest idea about what GladiatHers™ is, changed my life.

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I predominately grew up in a small town in South Carolina as a tomboy.  I played tennis and soccer and ran track.  I wasn’t really into fashion or make-up because in my mind those things were softies.  When I was young, in an effort to expand my athletic prowess, my father took me to a couple of workouts with a girls’ basketball team at a local rec center in his area…it didn’t stick.  I didn’t vibe with the girls or the game, so I realized early on that basketball wouldn’t be my thing.  But when I was in the 6th grade I noticed for the first time the Tennessee Lady Vols on my television screen in the 1996 NCAA tournament.  I saw Chamique Holdsclaw and Tiffani Johnson ballin so hard, but who really caught my attention was the woman in the pants suit on the sideline. She gave looks that could kill and yelled out marching orders in a way that would make the toughest of Marines stand a little taller.  Through that cold, competitive stance she also managed to deal with her players with marked level of tenderness and understanding.  She was Pat Summitt; and watching her move up and down the court and command the attention of her players, coaching staff and the media was amazing to me.  That tournament, and for the next two-in-a-row that Tennessee would go on to win, I was moved by the way she carried herself and the respect she earned from men and women alike.  I am blessed to come from a family of very strong, successful women who took positions of leadership in their personal and professional lives, but Pat was the first woman I saw who had women and men look up to and fully respect her as an expert in her field.  Everyone knew she was the best and she didn’t have to say it herself, she just proved it.

As I grew up, I continued to pay attention to Pat in interviews and during games and determined that I would be like her.  Now, I had no desire to play basketball or coach any sport, but what I saw in Pat transcended any game, field or arena.  Her ability to be a respected leader; her knowledge of her craft; her faith and humility; her dedication to excellence; and her genuine love of people are all things that I purposed to practice in my life.  Her archrivals respected her even though their professional missions were to annihilate her.  Her players loved her and appreciated what she taught them and how she taught it, no matter how tough she was.  She was strong without being domineering and compassionate without being a pushover.  She was my hero.

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As an adult I continue to look at Summitt’s life as a source of inspiration.  She epitomized what one person could do with faith and purpose on their side.  And she was a true testament of the great things that women could do.  Growing up seeing her in pants suits and make-up, raising her son and holding down a career assured the adult Cecelia that I too could have it all.  I can be a leader and expert, be  true to my faith and family and let the tomboy go without fear of not being taken seriously in a profession steeped in machismo.  Pat Summitt started her career as a coach at a time when the NCAA didn’t even recognize women’s basketball and saw her work through to a time where ESPN covers the entire NCAA women’s basketball tournament on television and the WNBA has made professional players out of college athletes.  If I can have an ounce of that commitment to my purpose, I have no doubt that I will leave my mark on this earth.

Thank you Pat Summitt for being my hero and not even knowing my name.  Thank you for inspiring girls and boys alike to follow their dreams.  Thank you for making people pay attention to women and women in sports.  Thank you for living your life as completely as you did.  You will be missed, but there are countless women like me who vow to make sure your legacy continues.

Now it’s your turn.  Share with your memories of Pat Summitt and what kind of impact she had on your life.  Help her legacy live on below in the comments section.  #WeBackPat #RIPPatSummitt


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