They said she was the “winning-est coach” ever with 38 winning seasons, and more NCAA college basketball games won than any coach, man or woman. Pat Summit, former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, died recently at 64 having been diagnosed five years ago with early onset dementia, the Alzheimer’s type.
I’ve always admired her career achievements and ground breaking contributions to women’s sports equality. But, it’s her interview with Robin Roberts after that diagnosis that stays with me. Asked by Roberts about the diagnosis, Pat responded, “It may not be the best thing, but you just gotta make it what it is and keep living your life.”
That is the choice. It is the choice for us, too, even though most of us won’t ever have to deal with a diagnosis like the one Pat Summit received.
Too often we don’t make that choice — “the keep living your life” part — even when smaller bumps hit our life, let alone the big ones. We get derailed by our broken relationships, career disappointments, health or financial setbacks, or fixed mindsets. We languish in woe-is-me pools and stay stuck in our ground-hog days, hitting replay again and again over something that can’t be changed.
I’ve been there a few times myself, remaining too long in a mental dark-hole — the emotional equivalent of putting one’s life-on-hold — waiting for a big win or positive happening to re-engage life; or locked behind some magical-thinking door while attempting to get back a life that’s no longer here, free from that unwanted change. I know what it’s like to feel upside down in an upright world.
Life can do that to us. It can change in an instant from what is “normal” or even “normal chaos” to something unimagined or vastly different. One day most things are fine; the next nothing is. We can’t control if someone we love develops serious health problems, our house is destroyed by fire, or the company we work for goes bankrupt. There’s a lot in life we can’t control.
The reality is no one gets a perfect life. Pat Summit’s life and death are a reminder of that. For all of us, in the scheme of things, there are rough patches, tragedies, difficulties, and loss; there’s also love, laughter, opportunity, and choice.
In the words of holocaust survivor, physician, and author Viktor Frankl: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” I hope if your world is turned upside down or your path gets too rocky, you’ll remember Pat Summit’s spirited philosophy and just “make it what it is and keep living your life.”