Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective

Sara Pisak, Opinion Editor

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Sum It Up is an autobiography written by legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt and close friend, journalist, Sally Jenkins. Sum it Up is the remarkable story of Summitt’s resiliency, barrier breaking and determination spanning her childhood in Clarksville and Henrietta, Tennessee to her present day triumph in dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s.

I originally bought this book as a gift for my mom, a former basketball player herself and the person who introduced me, at a young age, to Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols. With the arrival of March and March Madness (The NCAA Basketball Tournament), I figured there would be no better autobiography to review than Summitt’s, since she is the person who has consistently dominated the month of March.

What I love about this text is its conversational style. Imagine sitting down at your kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee and chatting with your best friend. This warm, friendly, inspiring and welcoming conversation is how Summitt addresses her readers. Summitt is raw and honest. She is never phony or high and mighty. Above all, Summitt is a humble trailblazer who cares more about people than individual accomplishments.

Sum It Up flawlessly describes Summitt’s love of the people whose lives she’s touched. Summitt has many individual accomplishments, and no review of her life, including this book, would be complete without listing a few achievements: 1,098 wins are the most by any coach, man or woman, in NCAA history; eight NCAA titles; gold and silver Olympic Medals; seven time NCAA coach of the year and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree. Summitt appreciates her success and relishes the hard work it required for these honors but she is more concerned with the people in her life: her family, friends and the girls she coached. Sum It Up is just as much about honoring them as it is about honoring Summitt.

Pat Summitt has influenced the lives of great coaches and athletes such as Tamika Catchings, Holly Warlick and Candace Parker and under her leadership the Tennessee Lady Vols have experienced a 100 percent graduation rate. These graduates have gone on to become successful coaches, professional basketball players, nonprofit founders, and school teachers. The jobs, many graduates hold, look to shape the lives of others, reflecting what Summitt has done for them.

When speaking of her recent diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s, Summitt lists her players as memories she will never forget. She describes each player as a tattoo on her heart which cannot be erased. The book relays touching tales of former players who rejoined her staff, others whom she has kept in touch with. One of the most notably tales showcases Summitt sitting at player Lisa McGill’s bedside and assisting in her recovery after a horrible accident. Viewing the lives she touched as her greatest accomplishments “sums up” what a selfless and loving person Summitt is.

Another great aspect of Sum It Up is how Summitt explains her tough love and determination to succeed. As a child, Summitt worked on her family’s farm every day, where her father expected her to work side by side and complete the same tasks as her brothers. Only after their chores, could Summitt and her brothers play basketball in the barn. There were no fouls and Summitt once again held her own. While a young college player and a young coach (she was named Tennessee’s head coach at the age of 22) Title IX was not yet passed and when passed was only in its infancy. Women’s sports were not given the same funding as men’s. While the men flew to games, Summitt’s teams rode in broken down vans which she often drove.

From these humble beginnings, Summitt turned herself and the Tennessee program into the powerhouse they are today. It is through her tough love and her uncanny ability to read people, which allowed her to break down her players through grueling workouts, discipline and frank discussions all while building their confidence and bringing out the best in each player.

Finally, Summitt speaks frankly about being diagnosed with arthritis, early onset Alzheimer’s and stepping aside to become coach emeritus. Sum It Up allows Summitt to speak of her goal of bringing awareness to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Summitt deserves to be celebrated for openly coaching with the disease and staying active by attending practices. She successfully proves people with Alzheimer’s should not be shut away.

Summitt speaks candidly about her close relationship and reliance on her son, Tyler, as they both work to bring awareness to and eradication of Alzheimer’s. Their relationship and bravery is inspiring and admirable. Sum It Up makes it clear, Pat Summitt beats Alzheimer’s by the way she continues to live her life and her positive outlook for the future.

If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s and The Pat Summitt Foundation please visit: http://www.patsummitt.org/.

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