10 Times Legendary Coach Pat Summitt Proved She's the Ultimate Inspiration
It's so much more than basketball
Pat Summitt, beloved coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, passed away today after battling Alzheimer's disease for five years. She was with the Lady Vols for essentially her entire professional life. She joined as an assistant coach at age 22 in 1974 and stayed with the team until 2012 when she resigned, leading the team to eight national titles as a head coach. Her overall record at retirement was an impressive 1,098 wins and only 208 losses in 38 years.
As if her UT record wasn't impressive enough, Summitt also coached two Olympic teams. In 1976, she co-coached a silver medal-winning team. Then, she led the U.S. team to gold at the next Olympic Games in 1980.
Naturally, her legacy holds a rich source of inspiration both on and off the court. She's written several inspiring books about her time as a coach, including Raise the Roof: The Inspiring Inside Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols' Historic 1997-1998 Threepeat Season, as well as Reach for the Summit, and Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective.
We pulled 10 moments from her life and career that inspire us to keep crushing it-whether it's on the court, in the office, or at the gym.
1. Getting real about what it means to be competitive.
2. As the 2011 Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year
In 2011, Pat was named Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year alongside Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. SI's feature on the two winningest coaches in college basketball shone a spotlight on bright moments from Summitt's career, including this one: "It's just that, years ago, as Pat Summitt left the floor after coaching a game at Louisiana Tech, she spotted a girl in a wheelchair at the mouth of the tunnel. She dropped to one knee and told her, 'Don't let the way you are now define who you will be. You can overcome anything if you work at it.'"
3. Talking about what it really means to be strong.
4. And why talent isn't everything.
5. When President Obama awarded her the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Coach Summitt is an inspiration-both as the all-time winningest NCAA coach and as someone who is willing to speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer's," said President Obam in a White House statement. "Pat's gift has always been her ability to push those around her to new heights, and over the last 38 years, her unique approach has resulted in both unparalleled success on the court and unrivaled loyalty from those who know her and those whose lives she has touched. Pat's coaching career may be over, but I'm confident that her work is far from finished. I look forward to awarding her this honor." It doesn't matter how many games you've won or lost-when you get praised by the president, you know you've made it.
6. When she reminded us that nothing beats hard work.
7. And that it's always about ~attitude~.
8. When she took team USA to the top of the Olympic podium.
"I remember feeling that an Olympic medal was a mountainous achievement for a girl from Henrietta, Tennessee. Just as it was for a girl from Monroe, Georgia, or from Cleveland, Mississippi, or Far Rockaway, New York," wrote Summitt in her book, Sum It Up. Summitt's life went from small-town to big-impact-and she earned every bit.
9. Recognizing her impact not only on the game but on her players.
"The job of coaching wasn't about being a martinet. It was about preparing people to make good independent decisions. Getting them in the right spots at the right time was as much a matter of understanding them, and talking to them, as it was of directing their traffic," wrote Summitt in her book, Sum It Up. "It was supposed to be an elite, demanding environment, and it wasn't right for everybody. But it was right for the 161 players who wore the orange, and the real legacy wasn't the victories, but knowing that they were made of something stronger when they left." And they all felt a distinct connection to her-nothing proves that more than the overwhelming #WeBackPat response after her Alzheimer's diagnosis.
10. Because she blazed a trail for women, on and off the court.
As the first women's basketball coach to make $1 million a year, Summitt paved the way for female coaches, according to ESPN. "We have the salaries we have today because of Pat Summitt, we have the exposure we have today because of Pat Summitt. She wasn't afraid to fight," said Kim Mulkey, the Baylor University women's basketball head coach since 2000, to ESPN.
Admittingly, it's impossible to condense Summitt's decades of excellence into any top-10 list; see UT's touching memorial of her entire career, and every moment that made an "unparalleled impact."