Thus far, Summitt has exhibited only the limited outward signs of her condition. There is a faint sense of dimming, as if a jar has been placed over a candle.
On Tuesday afternoon, she walked into the Tennessee locker room to inform her current team of her condition. She was prevented from telling them earlier by the fact that two of her players had been in China in the World University Games and did not arrive home until late Monday.
“I just want them to understand that this is what I’m going through, but you don’t quit living,” she says. “You keep going.”
‘Didn’t test for leadership’
After several instances of forgetfulness last season, she says, “I lost my confidence.” She became increasingly hesitant, and withdrawn. She avoided meeting with players one on one, afraid she might say something wrong.
When the season ended, Summitt decided to visit the Mayo Clinic for a full examination. For three days she underwent a battery of tests, an MRI exam, a PET scan, a neuro-psychological evaluation, and a spinal tap. After the spinal tap, she was told to remain lying down for 20 minutes. Sitting still is not something that comes naturally to her. Five minutes later she announced, “I feel fine,” and jumped off the table. A nurse looked at Tyler, and lifted an eyebrow. “I’m not going to be the one to stop her,” the nurse said.
She performed less strongly on the neuro-psych exam, which evaluated her mental status, and problem solving and spatial abilities. She was led into a small white room by a stranger who promptly began firing math questions at her — and math has always been a sore subject with Summitt. Her college sorority sisters at the University of Tennessee-Martin had to do her homework for her.
Asked to count backward from 100 by 7s, she froze. Next, she was asked, “Do you know today’s date?” She has never known the date. She deals with dates strictly on a need to know basis. Frequently, she doesn’t even known the name of her hotel — there have been so many of them, and they all look the same, and they are all called Radisson or Clarion or Hyatt or Hilton.
This has always been Summitt. She has always mislaid her car keys and forgotten where she put her cellphone. She has always juggled too many responsibilities, and obligations. For this reason, the numbers from her test results are somewhat misleading, according to her son.
“They didn’t test for leadership,” Tyler says. “They didn’t test for relationships. They didn’t test for basketball IQ. None of those things are on the test, it was just math problems. They asked questions she wouldn’t know on a regular basis. So I don’t think the test applies to what she does as a coach.”