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Known for being the “winningest” coach in the history of NCAA basketball, Pat Summitt was a legend both on and off the court. During her 38 years as head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, Pat raised the bar of what it means to be a leader—just Google “Pat Summitt’s leadership” and you’ll find countless articles about how she inspired others to be better coaches and leaders.
Losing seemed next to impossible for the athletes who played under Pat’s leadership. Of the 1,306 games she coached throughout her career, Pat and her teams won a whopping 1,098 of them.
“I'm someone who will push you beyond all reasonable limits,” she once said about finding potential in others. “Someone who will ask you not to just fulfill your potential but to exceed it. Someone who will expect more from you than you may believe you are capable of.”
In 2011, Pat announced she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. "There's not going to be any pity party and I'll make sure of that,” she said in her announcement.
And she was true to her words: During those first several months after learning of her disease, Pat finished out the 2011-2012 season with the Lady Vols and founded The Pat Summitt Foundation, a fund of the East Tennessee Foundation that raises money for grants in patient care, caregiver support and research against Alzheimer’s.
Pat passed away last year, but her influence lives on through her foundation and the people who had the honor of knowing her. In January, the foundation opened The Pat Summitt Clinic at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. The full-service clinic provides caregiver support and conducts clinical research trials for Alzheimer’s patients.
And over the past 11 days, the foundation took their efforts against Alzheimer’s on the road by establishing the inaugural Pedal for Pat cycling event to raise funds and increase awareness about the disease. The brainchild of Joshua Crisp, president and founder of TLC Senior Living in Knoxville, this cross-country event covered 1,098 miles from Knoxville to the Florida Keys in honor of the number of games Pat won. Eight cyclists committed to the entire 12-day journey, and another 14 joined in on individual days, each cyclist raising $10,000 or more along the way.
“I've never been part of anything like this,” says Patrick Wade, executive director of The Pat Summitt Foundation and longtime Lady Vols fan, who always looked up to Pat for her leadership ability.
“She's always been my hero,” he says. “Pat was all about hard work [and] doing things right —integrity and Pat Summitt are just synonymous. She was an educator who graduated 100 percent of her student athletes. I doubt there are any coaches who have done that, especially at that level of competition.”
Pat’s way of leading not only influenced how the foundation is operated, but also with how the cycling event was organized.
“When Pat started [as head coach], Pat drove the bus and Pat did the team laundry,” says Gabe West, event director of the cycling fundraiser, adding that throughout the duration of the bike race, members of the Pedal for Pat staff practiced servant leadership by traveling ahead to the each hotel to wash the cyclists’ clothes and have them ready and waiting for them in their room at the end of each day.
Through her legacy of leadership, Pat is making the world a better place by way of the people she influenced and the cause she championed.
“Yes, we're raising a ton of money and that's super important, but the awareness is equally important,” Gabe adds. “We've done a great job with cancer awareness, and it's changed the disease; we have new treatments, cure rates are so much higher, longevity of past diagnosis is so much longer, and we need to do the same thing with Alzheimer's.”
Pat will be remembered for the way she led her teams to their wins. She’s the kind of leader we should all strive to be, and a good example of what it means to leave a lasting legacy.
As a leader, have you thought about the legacy you’ll leave behind? Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center and daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr., puts it this way:
“When you die, will it matter that you were born? … Will it matter that you worked where you worked, grew up in the household that you grew up in, encountered the people you encountered? Will it matter?”
Think about the legacy you want to leave. There’s a Pat Summitt in all of us, and as she proved in her lifetime, one person truly can influence the lives of thousands.
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*To learn more about The Pat Summitt Foundation, donate to their cause or help raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, click here.