By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – When, in the summer of 2011, former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type at the age of 59, she made it immediately clear that she would use her platform to increase awareness and work to find a cure for the very disease from which she was suffering.
Just months after her surprising announcement, Summitt and her son Tyler created the Pat Summitt Foundation, a fund of the East Tennessee Foundation to work towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. This past November, the Pat Summitt Foundation celebrated its second anniversary and it is continuing to make a major impact on the cause.
“Because we are working for Pat and also working for such a cause as Alzheimer’s, we are driven to make it the best possible,” said Patrick Wade, Director of the Pat Summitt Foundation. “The foundation represents Pat and, when you represent Pat, you strive for excellence and doing things the right way, trying to make a difference in people’s lives.
“She is incredibly proud of what she accomplished as a coach and teacher for all of the Lady Vols,” Wade continued. “But now that she has moved into this phase of life and is working for such an important cause, she really wants this to be her legacy, as well.”
The Pat Summitt Foundation is a grant-making foundation with its grants, according to Wade, focusing on a comprehensive attack on Alzheimer’s disease. An emphasis is placed on raising money for research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and also to provide support services for both patients and caregivers.
“Since day one, we have contributed more than $300,000 in grants and financial support covering all three of those areas,” Wade said. “We were able to do a lot right from the beginning and most of that has been because of the national response. There is incredible love and admiration for Pat Summitt and we have received donations from all over the country.”
Pilot Corporation founder Jim Haslam is the chairman of the Pat Summitt Foundation Board of Directors, while Peyton Manning and Kara Lawson serve as the foundation’s honorary co-chairs. In the foundation’s infancy, Manning and his wife Ashley gave a $500,000 gift to the Pat Summitt Foundation which, according to Wade, allowed it to begin making an immediate difference.
In addition to the efforts of the Pat Summitt Foundation staff and board of directors, many of Summitt’s former players have contributed to the cause with a variety of initiatives and events to help raise money for the foundation.
Lawson, and her husband Damien Barling, has raised money for the foundation with teams participating in the New York City Marathon and a three-point challenge based on her own performances with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. In the first year of Lawson’s three-point challenge, she raised and donated more than $12,000 from that initiative alone.
Current Tennessee assistant coach Kyra Elzy, who played for Summitt, is in the second year of sponsoring an “SEC Win Challenge,” by which she pledged a certain amount of money for each of Tennessee’s Southeastern Conference victories. Elzy has gotten many fans on board to join her in her pledge, raising more than $13,000 for the Pat Summitt Foundation.
And that’s only a snapshot of the former players who are engaged in the We Back Pat initiative.
“We have events that we coordinate throughout the year and then we have people who approach us about doing their own third-party events,” Wade said. “It’s incredible the support and response we have gotten all over the country.”
The SEC, on Sunday, concludes its third-annual We Back Pat Week, a week-long initiative focused on bringing awareness and recognition to the Pat Summitt Foundation. During We Back Pat Week, SEC member institutions will support the Pat Summitt Foundation by increasing awareness during their home basketball games.
“The SEC is an incredibly and important and devoted partner of ours,” Wade said. “With the support of the SEC, We Back Pat games took off and that provides a lot of funding for us to use to make grants.”
In addition to the SEC’s We Back Pat games, countless collegiate and high school programs throughout the country have followed that lead to put on their own events in support of Summitt and the foundation.
“We have worked proactively to spread those out across the country,” Wade said. “The SEC’s We Back Pat Week is the main one, but then we have schools across the country approach us about doing games. Primarily, We Back Pat games are an awareness and engagement opportunity and certainly help to raise funds. We Back Pat games are helping people understand what the We Back Pat Foundation is all about and allowing fans and supporters to be engaged to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Summitt’s determination to put a public face on Alzheimer’s disease, by continuing to coach in 2011-12 and since serving as head coach emeritus, with many public appearances, has been a major reason for the success of the Pat Summitt Foundation.
“As difficult as it is, Pat is in a unique situation where she can make a huge difference by being a face for Alzheimer’s disease,” Wade said. “What is really important is that she shows people that you don’t have to stop doing what you want to do in life. She has not let this stop her in any way. I think that inspires a lot of other people in her same situation.”
As the Pat Summitt Foundation continues to work towards the cause of raising grant money to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it has been the support of Summitt’s friends, family and fans that has allowed the foundation the resources and attention that it needs to serve its mission.
“We are where we are today 100 percent because of the support we have received all across the country,” Wade said. “We’re just very fortunate and trying to do everything we can to maximize what people are doing for us. We are very grateful for all of the partners we have and Pat says the same thing. She is genuinely so grateful for what everyone is doing to join her team.”
For more information on the Pat Summitt Foundation, log on to www.patsummitt.org. For more information about the SEC’s We Back Pat Week, click here: http://www.secdigitalnetwork.com/SECSPORTS/WeBackPat.aspx.