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Pat Summitt, the celebrated coach of the University of Tennessee’s woman’s basketball program who has won more games than any other college coach ever over a long and distinguished career, announced yesterday that at age 59 she has been diagnosed with “early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.”

Summitt says that with the full support of the university, she will remain in her coaching job and will teach and lead, while handing off more responsibilities to her assistants. And, she plans to become a spokesperson for the cause of finding a cure for the disease.

In a remarkable story in the Washington Post today, columnist Sally Jenkins (a friend of Summitt’s) writes that “now she will need a different kind of counterintuitive strength. Surrender and acceptance have never come naturally to her, nor has admitting vulnerability. She has trouble even uttering the word Alzheimer’s. But she’s learning ... With acceptance has come relief — and, thanks to treatment, apparent improvement.

“Every morning she reads, or studies math problems on flash cards. Each night she spends hours working on her iPad, doing puzzles to improve her cognitive abilities ... Over the last few days, with the clarity of her diagnosis and decision to go public, Summitt has recovered her confidence. More often than not, it is she who comforts others, as usual. Her staff have grief-stretched looks around their eyes, and seem quietly destroyed under their skins. Every so often you find one of them has ducked into her laundry room to weep. It’s Summitt who puts her arms around them and talks quietly into their ear. ‘I don’t want you worrying about me,’ she says. Strong has always been her natural, preferred state.”
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