Pat Summitt's life continues to resonate a year after her death

Pat Summitt's life continues to resonate a year after her death

June 27th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo, former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Knoxville, Tenn. Amid reports of Summitt’s failing health as her Alzheimer’s disease progresses, her family issued a statement Sunday, June 26, 2016, asking for prayers and saying that the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach is surrounded by the people who mean the most to her. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

Photo by WADE PAYNE

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KNOXVILLE — The gesture seemed to resonate with many as an image of the orange roses and birthday card spread through social media and news outlets.

Tennessee women's basketball coach Holly Warlick left the items at the Pat Summitt statue on campus June 14, which would have been predecessor Summitt's 65th birthday.

It was an outward expression, prompted by a significant date, of Warlick's new reality, and a somber reminder of another date that is approaching.

Wednesday will mark a year since Summitt died of complications from Alzheimer's disease. But the day of sorrow will bring new attention to the thriving legacy of women's basketball's most iconic figure.

"We do mourn that she's gone, but her presence is everywhere," Warlick said as she motioned toward the walls in her office last week. "I'm around Pat every day. There are pictures in my office of Pat. I go by her statue every day, and I always gesture to her every day when I go by her statue. I'm fortunate enough to, every day, know she has her presence with me."

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Summitt's impact on women's basketball is cemented in history and highlighted by eight national championships. Her impact on Alzheimer's research is still growing. The Pat Summitt Foundation has thrived over the past year, highlighted by the opening of the Pat Summitt Clinic in January at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

It's a brick-and-mortar nod to Summitt's ability, even in death, to galvanize people for a cause.

"The amount of support was just overwhelming immediately," foundation executive director Patrick Wade said. "In this year, it's really carried through. Pat tragically, sadly and sooner than what anyone wanted to see it happen, passed away. That continued to bring awareness to the urgent need for a treatment and a cure for Alzheimer's disease. We've had more people coming to us this year with events and donations and asking for ways they can support."

Today's noon #ENDALZ Lunch and Learn Seminar at the McMinn Senior Activity Center in Athens, Tenn., is just one example of the grassroots messaging about the disease that has come as a result of Summitt's willingness to wage a public fight against it.

Wade will discuss the foundation's efforts to fight Alzheimer's at the event, and a social worker in Starr Regional Medical Center's Senior Care Department will go over warning signs and symptoms of the disease.

"Because of Pat's name and career and legacy, we're fortunate that we have a lot of things that gain national attention and national effort," Wade said. "But for the most part, just about everything we do, it starts at a grassroots level."

Warlick said her biggest challenge in the grieving process is not being able to pick up the phone and call Summitt, whom she played for, coached under and took over for in the Lady Volunteers program.

She does not plan to make another public gesture Wednesday such as the flower and cards, but Warlick said there are plans to highlight Summitt's legacy this week as her Lady Vols continue summer workouts.

Freshmen entering Tennessee's program were in middle school when Summitt announced her diagnosis in August 2011.

"Pat will always have a presence in this program, and our kids will know a history of her and what she's meant not only to the Lady Vol basketball program but to basketball," Warlick said. "We're always going to refer to her. We're always going to talk about her."

But it won't be just one week per year that Tennessee's players are reminded of Summitt's legacy.

"We're not going to treat her like she's gone and we're going to forget about her," Warlick said. "We're going to use what she did, her inspiration and her words and what she guided to try and help these kids in everyday life.

"I think just to bring Pat up in the misfortune of her losing her life is not what we're going to do. We're going to make sure these kids know about her throughout the year."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.

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