KNOXVILLE —Three months ago, Patt Summitt, 59, the blaze-eyed, clench-fisted University of Tennessee women’s basketball winning more games than any other college coach ever had to visit the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn, to seek an explanation for a troubling series of memory lapses over the last year. A woman being always highly organized asked repeatedly what time a team meeting was scheduled for.
Legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach talked about her bout with Alzheimer's disease with The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins.
Her first clue that something happened to her came last season, when she drew a blank on what offensive set to call in the heat of a game.
Summitt declared that her symptoms were the side effects of a powerful medication she was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. Summitt received her test results from the Mayo Clinic at the end of May, having the confirmation of a shocking worst-case scenario, “mild” but distinct signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Last week Washington D.C. attorney Robert B. Barnett met on Knoxville his longtime friend and client, half expecting her to step down after 38 years as Tennessee’s coach. Summitt told Barnett that she did not think that her symptoms were severe enough yet to warrant retirement, and that she would like to coach at least three more years. She also talked about her decision against a formal statement. She sat down for an interview with this writer, who co-authored her 1999 autobiography, and the Knoxville News-Sentinel to discuss about her illness publicly for the first time.