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Make new memories

Walker Carey | Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I have never considered myself a fan of women’s basketball. Sure, I know about Notre Dame’s successful team, and I know names like Geno Auriemma and Brittney Griner because I watch a lot of SportsCenter. There is another name I also know — University of Tennessee’s head coach Pat Summitt.

Growing up, Tennessee women’s basketball was always a leading team. The Lady Volunteers were to women’s basketball what Duke was to men’s basketball. Every single year, you just knew the Lady Vols were going to be a great team. In my lifetime, the Lady Vols have won the National Championship an amazing six times. I never followed any of those championship teams, but I heard about the Lady Vols’ success one way or another.

Despite Coach Summitt’s many successes, I was never really interested in her until this past August when it became known that she was suffering from early-onset dementia. The thing that struck me the most about her illness was that she was only 59-years-old at the time of the diagnosis. I was also really surprised when I read that the she was going to continue coaching the Lady Vols.

As the college basketball season progressed, I had not heard too much about Summitt’s illness. This all changed last week when I read a feature written by Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports. In the feature, Forde compares the challenges Summit’s son Tyler, a sophomore walk-on for the Tennessee men’s team, faces with his mother’s condition to the challenges Forde himself faced when his own mother suffered through an 18-year battle with Alzheimer’s until her death in 2002.

Forde notes how he was a scared college sophomore in 1984 when he heard of his mother’s diagnosis. In contrast, he believes that if Tyler Summitt is scared, he is definitely not letting it on. This belief is backed up by Tyler stating, “I don’t focus on what I can’t control. We can control the memories we still make together. I’d rather focus on the new memories and the life at hand than worry about losing the past.”

While reading Forde’s feature, I could not help but think about my maternal grandmother who is also battling dementia. I began to think how unfair it was to her that she was losing the last few years of her life to that awful illness, but then I remembered what Tyler Summitt said. I have had many great memories with my grandmother over the first 21 years of my life and I will forever cherish them, so it is entirely useless to focus on something I cannot control. That does no good for anyone involved.

I know there are many people who know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I can at least partly understand how hard it is. I think it would be beneficial for everyone to remember what Tyler Summitt said about taking advantage of the present. It has helped me and I am sure it will also help others going through this difficult process.

Contact Walker Carey at [email protected]

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.