At 59 years old, fabled University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt has received a life-altering diagnosis: early-onset dementia—Alzheimer's type.
USA Today reports that Summitt, famous for her unmatched record of 1,071 wins and an incredible eight national championships, will persist with her passion for coaching despite her disease. The difference being that now she will have to rely on crucial assists from her coaching staff if she wants the Tennessee women's team to continue their winning ways.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic, where Summitt was given her final diagnosis, describe early-onset Alzheimer's as a rare disease. They say that, a mere 5% of all the people diagnosed with Alzheimer's will experience noticeable symptoms before age 65.
They also say that early diagnosis is crucial for the preservation of a person's mind and relationships, something Summitt fully acknowledges. "I feel fine now—once I knew what I was dealing with, you know? The unknown is what's scary. But now, knowing what I know, I'm going to do everything I can to keep my mind sharp," she said in a video interview provided by the University of Tennessee.
Summitt has made the decision to be open about her diagnosis, something that Mayo also encourages. Being honest at work and with family and friends is vital to helping a person navigate their new life with an early-onset diagnosis.
Perhaps the most poignant advice from the experts is the central role played by a person's social support network. The feeling that one is not alone is paramount for a person who is coping with a chronic, incurable illness.
It is her support structure that Summitt feels will help her coach through the limitations of her disease. "I've got a great staff and a great support system. So, you know, I'm going to stick my neck out and do what I always do."
On June 28, 2016, only five years after her diagnosis, Pat Summitt lost her battle with dementia at Sherrill Hills Senior Living Community in Knoxville, TN. She was 64 years old.