It’s bittersweet, going out on top.
That's what’s happened to Pat Summitt, who on Wednesday said she's stepping down as the University of Tennessee's women's basketball coach at only 59.
She's the winningest coach — man or woman — in college basketball, with 1,098 wins. That's 171 more games than Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the Division 1 men's record-holder with 927 wins. And he's 65.
Imagine the heights Summitt would reach with even a few more years as coach of the Lady Volunteers, the team she coached for 38 years.
Summitt revealed her illness to the Post's Sally Jenkins eight months ago. “I can’t change it,” Summitt told Jenkins. “But I can try to do something about it.”
What she did was coach through one final season, going 27-9 before losing in the NCAA regionals to Baylor, a team that went undefeated in a 40-game march to the NCAA championship. Summitt's longtime assistant Holly Warlick will take over as coach next season, with Summitt taking an emeritus role at Tennessee.
Wednesday, the accolades acknowledging Summitt's history flowed quickly over Twitter. Tennis legend Billie Jean King thanked Summitt for "everything you have done. you are a true champion in life.’’ Good Morning America anchor and former basketball player Robin Roberts noted that Summitt "will remain a strong presence for the Lady Vols. Much respect and love. XO"
Summitt isn't the only celebrity whose career is being cut short by Alzheimer's. Musician Glen Campbell, 75, is on a farewell tour around the country that began around the time of Summitt's final game. At a performance in Minnesota last week, Campbell forgot lyrics, his daughter's name and more, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune review, which also praised his guitar playing.
(Campbell is slated to play at Birchmere in July.)
Campbell and Summitt are the current public faces of a disease that another 5.4 million American's are living with, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Typically, the disease strikes people considerably older than Summitt.
President Ronald Reagan is perhaps the best-known victim of the disease, announced a few years after he left office.
As Summitt's memory fades and she takes a seat behind the Tennessee bench, Summitt is raising money through a foundation to educate others about disease she suffers, help other patients and their families, and support research into Alzheimer's disease.
With her record-setting sports achievements and her brave public battle against Alzheimer's, she is in every sense going out on top.
Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette