Can you help me? Ok, not exactly me. More like people in your life and our communities who suffer from Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in our country.
I’m embarking on what some might consider a crazy endeavor to raise money to find a cure for this horrible disease. I’m a “Summitt Cyclist” for the Pedal for Pat fundraiser. That means I’ve committed to riding 1,098 miles over the course of 12 days, from Knoxville, Tennessee, to the Florida Keys, all the way at the bottom of that looong state. I’m inviting you to join me on my ride, by fueling me with your financial contribution.
The first $10,000 raised will be matched 100% by a generous anonymous donor. That means your gift will go twice as far to fight the good fight to beat Alzheimer’s!
The ride starts at the Pat Summitt Plaza on the University of Tennessee campus. It’s a fitting beginning, as honoring Pat Summitt was the event’s inspiration. The head coach of Lady Vols basketball for nearly forty years, accumulating 1,098 (that number look familiar?) wins over the course of her career, died of early onset Dementia, Alzheimer’s type, at the way-too-young age of 64 just last year.
I never met Pat Summitt. So, it’s reasonable to wonder why, exactly, I am doing this ride.
The truth is, I didn’t know much about Pat until ten years ago. Back then, I didn’t follow women’s basketball, but then my life changed in a whoosh. I became a co-owner of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm franchise (long story for another time). Suddenly, I was in the thick of women’s professional basketball. Pat Summitt's Lady Vol graduates peopled several of the league’s rosters. In my first year as an owner, 2008, one of her players, Candace Parker, went #1 in the draft.
Suddenly, I knew about Pat Summitt. And just like that, I became an instant fan of this driven, passionate, and wildly successful woman, a big one.
Fast forward to the present: I’m irate that she was cut down too early by a disease that not only robs its victims of precious years, but also strips away their memories and stories, and their ability to retain connection with those they love.
Pat was an inspiration when she was alive, and she continues to serve as one. She was tough and engendered tough. In a world where people are relentlessly researching, writing and talking about how to develop persistence, how to coax the growth of grit, we have Pat Summitt to show us the way.
I only know of Pat through others’ memories and public accounts. But I have a good imagination. I imagine that she was a hard ass with a giant heart. She was tough on those she cared for, because a well-lived life demands toughness, and how else could she prepare her athletes for the rigors of adulthood, except by being demanding and exacting? Love is not all about sweetness and light. It’s about figuring out how to call forward the best of those for whom we care. Pat Summitt did that, and, in doing so, exemplified the hidden-in-plain-sight promise and power of high expectations.
I believe in the power of persistence. Too often people resist dreaming big or give up on their dreams too soon. To counter that tendency, I’ve publicly committed myself to an admittedly aggressive physical challenge, just as Pat Summitt publicly committed her program and her athletes, year in, year out, to pursue a national championship. What better way to speed the quest to identify how Alzheimer’s wreaks its havoc on those we love, than to raise funds to defang the illness?
So, I’m doing this, committing to ride a ridiculous number of miles in a pitifully small number of days. I want to honor Pat Summitt. I want to kick Alzheimer’s in the butt. I want to remember those in my community who have been similarly afflicted. And, if I can inspire others to dream and pursue their own dreams, so much the better.
After all, I’ve done my fair share of crazy things in life, pursuing dreams I had no reason to dream. I guess that’s why I’ve got an Olympic medal stuffed in a drawer somewhere, a memoir published by Beacon Press in 2015, and a share of ownership in one of the WNBA’s model franchises. If you want to learn more about me, please visit my website: ginnygilder.com
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