Summitt reached the top in sports, then took on a tougher medical foe

Pat Summitt accomplished so much during her 40-plus years as a big-time basketball player and coach, people sometimes forgot all about her being a woman, in a good way.

But when she finally stepped down in April 2012 as the longtime head coach of the University of Tennessee's powerhouse women's team, it was hard not to see her as anything other than a gutsy, generous human being.

Months earlier, Summitt had announced she’d been diagnosed at 59 with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. It was stunning from someone considered a walking encyclopedia of basketball plays and tactics, a cunning competitor who won a silver medal playing on the 1976 U.S. women’s Olympic squad — then came back and coached the American women to the gold in 1984.

That kicked off a long list of "firsts" and "bests" racked up by college's all-time winningest coach — of a Division I men's or women's team. Her total of 1,098 wins and eight national titles as coach of the Lady Vols landed her at No. 11 (and the only woman) on the Sporting News's ranking of the 50 greatest coaches of all time, in all sports.

The Lady Vols made it to the 2012 NCAA tournament's "Elite Eight," fulfilling Summitt's vow not to make her final season a "pity party." And she maintained that focus, releasing a memoir ("Sum It Up") that was moving but not maudlin in discussing basketball, and also her six miscarriages, divorce after 27 years of marriage and more recent struggle with dementia.

In November 2011, Summitt launched her namesake Alzheimer's foundation with her son, Tyler, who was born in 1990 after his mom's water broke while she was on a recruiting trip. They've pledged to raise $2.5 million to support the Pat Summitt Alzheimer's Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.