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Pat Summitt, Legendary Women's Basketball Coach, Dies at 64: 'She Built Her Life Upon a Strong Relationship With Christ'

( [email protected] ) Jun 28, 2016 09:28 AM EDT
Pat Summitt, legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach and outspoken Christian, has died at 64 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's Disease.
During her time at the University of Tennessee, Pat Summitt won eight national titles and 1,098 games, and her teams made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN

Pat Summitt, legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach and outspoken Christian, has died at 64 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Summitt's son, Tyler Summitt, announced the passing of his mother on Tuesday morning and reflected on her tremendous courage and undying faith even while battling the devastating disease.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my mother, Patricia Sue Head Summitt," he wrote in a lengthy statement.

"Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, 'Alzheimer's Type,' and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced. Even though it's incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease," he wrote.

He continued: "For 64 years, my mother first built her life upon a strong relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Her foundation was also built upon love of her family and of her players, and love of the fundamentals of hard work which reflected her philosophy that 'you win in life with people.'"

Summitt became head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974 at the age of 22, according to her obituary page. In her 38 years at the University of Tennessee, she won eight national titles and 1,098 games -- the most by any Division 1 basketball coach, male or female. Her teams made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

"She'll be remembered as the all-time winningest D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history, but she was more than a coach to so many -- she was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure," Tyler Summitt said. "We will all miss her immensely."

In 2000, Summitt was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, according to ESPN.  In 2011, she announced she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, but continued coaching for another year. Before retiring, the Lady Vols their 16th SEC Championship under her leadership.

"This is not a pity party," she said at the time. "We're not going to sit here and feel sorry for Pat Summitt."

"This will be a new chapter for my mom and me," Tyler Summitt added. "And we will continue to work as a team like we always have done... Our faith is in the Lord and we trust that God has a plan for us."

In 2012, Tennessee alum and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning presented Summitt with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at ESPN's ESPY Awards. That same year, President Barack Obama awarded Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

On Tuesday, the University of Tennessee issued a statement calling Summit "a global icon who transcended sports and spent her entire life making a difference in other people's lives."

"Pat was so much more than a Hall of Fame coach; she was a mother, mentor, leader, friend, humanitarian and inspiration to so many," the school said. "Her legacy will live on through the countless people she touched throughout her career."

Prior to her death, Tyler Summitt revealed that his mother frequently impressed upon him the importance of a relationship with God and being faithful to a church that focuses on the Bible.

"She prays every morning. She reads her Bible every day," he said. "We always went to church. And if someone asked her (if she's a Christian) she would absolutely say yes."