I admit to not being the most avid sports fan. I’ve been to one, single Yankees game and one, single Knicks game in over 10 years as a New Yorker and I tuned into the Super Bowl this year to watch the halftime show. So when rumors started to float around my office about the highly anticipated memoir from former women’s college basketball coach Pat Summitt, it didn’t seem like something I would be interested in reading.
But then I heard things about the book that started to change my mind. Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective recalls Summitt’s life not only as the first coach in NCAA history to reach 1,000 wins, but it also details her battle with early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with at age 59.
This book is a must-read for so many reasons. As someone who knows very little about the world of sports, I found it fascinating to learn about her career and how she focused on her relationships with individual players to bring the team to victory after victory. As she describes the complexity of the team members through the course of the years, it is easy to see why this woman was a master coach. She’s instinctively good at reading people and managing them. She describes situations in you-are-there scenes, as if you’re standing on the court with them. I found her leadership wisdom intriguing and profound.
Summitt also discusses her family life — as a mother and wife. She candidly walks us through her 26-year marriage to banker R.B. Summitt, from their courtship to their breakup in 2006. She captures a lifetime of emotional transformations; even revealing her struggle to become a mother. Summitt endured six miscarriages before having a son, Tyler. She describes the balancing act of being a working mom (to put it lightly), and now Tyler is following in his mother’s footsteps as an assistant coach for the Marquette women’s basketball team. Some of the most moving parts of the book are when Summitt talks about her relationship with her son.
Perhaps the most compelling and improbable part of this book: that it’s written by a women with Alzheimer’s. Yet Summitt describes everything in clear detail. She faces her diagnosis with faith and perseverance; and is trying new therapies, taking medicine and exercising. She does not complain about her battle, she discusses her fears and says her faith keeps her hopeful.
Pat Summit’s life has been a string of personal struggles and triumphs, and she has surged through remaining kind and strong. She is a role model for the many women she has coached, and she has just added another woman to her list.