By Tamika Catchings, an WNBA star who wrote the below tribute for her former coach Pat Summitt for SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes
I woke up this morning around 4:14a with an eerie sense of loneliness and shook it away long enough to get back to sleep for a few more hours before I needed to get up to head to the gym. At 6:30a both alarms went off on my ipad and my cell, and as I struggled to turn them off, my phone started ringing at the same time. Once again I looked around the darkness and struggled to comprehend, why I was getting a call so early, hoping that I hadn’t overslept…
“Tamika… Tamika… are you there?” my friend on the other end asked.
“Huh?… yes I’m here.” I responded.
“Tamika… I need you to get up. Have you heard the news? She asked.
“Pat passed,” I said as I choked on my own words… “Wow.”
I don’t know what all was said next, but I remember my last statement as I was getting off the phone…
“I have to get ready to go to the gym.”
And then we hung up. As I swung my legs over to the floor, nothing felt right in the moment. Go to the gym? For what? Tears started to slide down my face. First slowly, and then rapidly until I hit the dry heave. Alone in my space, reaching for Parnell, but not knowing where he was. I started praying. Much like I did when I saw her on Sunday.
“Lord, your will be done—not mine. Please protect her. Please watch over her. Please take care of her…”
I jumped in the shower, but NOTHING can take away the pain. The tears keep flowing, the memories ambush my mind, and honestly I don’t know the last time I’ve felt like this… if ever I lost someone that has impacted my life to this capacity.
Our trainer texted me and I told him “I don’t feel like coming to the gym.” I can only count on 1 hand in my 15 years as a player ever saying that – this was my 2nd time. And, so I decided to grab my things and head over to my sister’s house. Weirdly enough, as I started to walk out I saw a peep of my travel bag in the bonus room and saw that my husband was lying on the couch. I dropped my bags, ran to the couch and squirmed into his arms, finally able to release the tears, the pain and everything I was feeling in my body onto his shirt. Shaking uncontrollably he kept asking “What’s wrong? Babe… what’s wrong?” I couldn’t say the words, and every time I tried, I cried harder and harder. Not really grasping how to say the words, and really not wanting to hear it again.
Finally, I calmed down enough to say… “Pat’s gone…”
Words can’t express how grateful I am to be able to have had the relationship that I did with Pat. From my 8th grade year, at age 13, she has impacted me in everything that I have done. My years in HS waiting to get that “letter” from UT to be deemed good enough to play for the one and only Pat Head Summitt. I still remember to this day and while it wasn’t her name on the card, it had Mickie DeMoss and Holly Warlick’s autographs on it, and I was officially hooked!
Pat has taught me about living with integrity. About always giving 100%- But, most importantly about how to FIGHT in every facet of life. Watching her over the last 5 years, my greatest memory is in the picture above. I’ve seen her countless times at throughout the years, and while you can see the Pat we know slip away, she was still physically there- physically here. Selfishly, I was cool with the fact that I could see her before and after every season. Although, death is the inevitable in all of our lives, I just never imagined it would happen- not to Pat. God please, please, please give us a miracle.
I got the call in Dallas on Friday morning. “Catch, you need to get to Knoxville ASAP! Pat’s not doing well and they don’t know how long she’s going to make it.”
Frantically I started checking the schedule. We played the Wings on Saturday, day off on Sunday and then to Chicago. I planned to leave on the first thing smoking to Knoxville.
Prepping myself to go and actually being there, silent tears fell down my face as I visited with Pat. Her eyes closed and her breaths hard and chopped. All I could pray was “God I want her here, but even more so I want her FREE. I want our Pat back and if it means releasing her, then Lord I release her.” The tears flowed harder, but sitting in that room with my Lady Vol family, we all knew that it was a matter of time and to savor each moment we could.
I laid my head on her shoulder and wrapped my arms around her one last time. I kissed her and then stood up to leave the room. I walked slowly, looked back, and wished that for one more time we could see Pat’s smile, her eyes, her nod of assurance that “Catch, it’s going to be alright…”
You can never be prepared for this moment. But, what we can do is live each moment with the people we love telling them and sharing with them every time we have an opportunity. Pat, you have meant so much to me, my family and everyone that is associated with me to this day, through everything you taught me. The way you lived your life, the standards you operated by, the things that were (and have always) remained important to you, that’s why I am the person that I am today.
Over the last 20 years of my life, you have helped mold me, shape me and love me into the person that I am today. I’m so blessed to have had you in my life. While it’s not easy not having you here physically, I know you will ALWAYS be with me in everything that I do and all that I stand for. And, I also know that one day we will be reunited in Heaven. Thank you for everything that you represent and for always being my Calm through my Storms. I am forever grateful…
Thanks to all of the text, e-mails, phone calls, etc from everyone. It truly helps knowing there are so many that love and cherished Pat the way that I did. Your condolences and well wishes are appreciated and I’m so thankful for each and every one of you. Best wishes and God Bless!
Rest in Peace Pat… Until we meet again…
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