Extreme stories: What I learned from Pat Summitt

Somewhere along the trail, I started thinking about my favorite Pat Summitt stories. The ones where her players talked about running sprints until they threw up. The one about Pat willing her pregnant self to hold off on labor so she could make one last recruiting trip. The one about fundraising through bake sales to buy uniforms. Yes, the stories about the legendary women’s basketball coach which came to my mind this week were the extreme ones — ones which may be more grounded in folk lore than in fact. But the distinction doesn’t necessarily matter. Because for most of us who have been in the women’s basketball world, or the women’s sporting world, it’s really about what Pat Summitt symbolized.

My Twitter feed blew up this week when Summitt announced she would be stepping down as the head coach at Tennessee. It’s not particularly surprising, She had backed away from many of her duties this year after announcing she was diagnosed with dementia. Her 1,098 wins are the most by any college coach, of either gender. She’s in nearly every hall of fame imaginable. She helped bring women’s basketball into the national sporting consciousness. But you can read plenty about her legacy elsewhere.

In fact, you can read so much about her legacy, it felt a bit awkward to me, as if the sports world was eulogizing Pat Summitt while she was still alive. Then again, perhaps that’s a sign of what an incredible impact this woman made in the lives of thousands.

I’ve thought for a few days about what to write about Pat Summitt. I’ve never spent any one-on-one time with her, though I’ve been part of several group interviews. I have no personal connection to her per se, but there’s plenty I admire and plenty I’ve learned from growing up watching every bit of women’s basketball I could find, much of it coached by her:

  • Women can be fiercely competitive and caring at the same time.
  • It’s important to remember your roots and your identity, even if others wish you would change it. (See: Lady Vols).
  • There is no substitute for passion.
  • Do what you love with your whole heart and success will follow.
  • Never underestimate the power of being emphatic.

Not a bad way to think about life in general and training specifically as I reach crunch time for my spring events. This is me. This is what I do. This is who I am. Bring it.

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