As an athlete, it's a word that's ingrained in your head from the moment you step onto the court or the field, or into the weight room, or anywhere.
I prepare on the court. I prepare in the studio. But what happens when life throws you something you can't prepare for?
When Pat Summitt announced last summer that she had early-onset dementia, I wasn't prepared.
I wasn't prepared for my coach to be sick. I wasn't prepared for the emotions that would follow. And eight months later, I wasn't prepared for my coach to walk away from the game she has given so much to. From the game she helped build.
A shocking call
It was a normal day in April. I'd just finished a workout, and was grabbing a quick lunch at one of my favorite vegan spots in New York City. Just as my food arrived, my phone began to ring. I didn't know the number, but the 860 Connecticut area code gave me the thought it could be someone from ESPN. I picked up and was met by an unfamiliar voice with an extremely urgent tone.
"Pat Summitt is stepping down. Can you do 'SportsCenter'?"
Pat Summitt. My coach? Is stepping down?
While on hold waiting to go live on ESPN, I could hear the alerts that text messages and emails were pouring in to my phone. Friends, family, colleagues and teammates all wanting to check in -- while my food was sitting on the table at the restaurant and I was waiting to tell the world my thoughts on Coach Summitt's retirement.
I had about five minutes to digest the news, gather my thoughts and decide what this meant for the Lady Vols and the entire sport of women's college basketball.
After Pat's announcement of her illness last August, you'd think her retirement would be easier to prepare for. It wasn't. And how could it be? Pat Summitt is Tennessee basketball. Pat Summitt is women's college basketball. No matter the circumstances, iconic figures can't walk away without there being a certain level of shock. And when you're so close with that iconic figure, the shock is intensified.
I had spoken to Pat the night before. She'd made no mention of her impending plans, and other than telling me she was doing great, the conversation was about me and the training I had been doing. She knew I had goals leading into the WNBA season and she wanted to make sure I was on my way to achieving them. (She never stops coaching. I don't imagine she ever will.)
Pledging money, showing love
As I headed into training camp for my 10th WNBA season, I wanted to do something special to honor Pat. Last year, my husband, Damien, and I had the opportunity to launch a campaign that coincided with the New York City Marathon. In just four weeks of fundraising, we received donations totaling close to $18,000. Messages came through our donation scroll that included words of encouragement for Coach Summitt and words of remembrance for family members and friends who have suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
This year I wanted to make a larger contribution. I felt that this WNBA season would be special: I'm completely healthy for the first time in several seasons and coming off some of the most intense training of my career. We have a great group of players on the Connecticut Sun and I think I have the opportunity to surpass a number of my career bests. So I decided to donate $50 for every 3-point basket I make to the Pat Summitt Foundation. Coach Summitt established the organization shortly after her diagnosis as a way to help fund research into Alzheimer's disease.
The response to my pledge was amazing. By the second game of the season, the Connecticut Sun Foundation, the Mohegan tribe, and our close friend and Pat's biographer, Sally Jenkins, had all agreed to match the $50 pledge. What started as a $50-per-3 donation has grown to $200.
As the 3's started going in, the response became bigger. Fans from all over the WNBA started approaching me about making donations. Connecticut Sun season-ticket holders wanted to match the $50, fans at away games were trying to hand me money, broadcasters from all over the league were talking about it, and the overwhelming love and admiration people had for Pat was increasingly clear. I quickly realized that we needed to set up some sort of donation site quickly.
Now we have it. For the second year in a row, the New York City Marathon will be the centerpiece.
I'll be taking part in the second annual New York Road Runners Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Nov. 3. The next day, we have a dedicated team of runners who will take to the streets of New York for 26.2 miles. It will all be in the name of Pat Summitt and the Pat Summitt Foundation.
Alzheimer's is a vicious disease. There is no treatment, and there is no cure. Once you have it, you have it. You have to find ways to deal with it, and while you can't stop it, doctors believe you can slow it down. That's why research is so important. That's why organizations like the Pat Summitt Foundation are so important. Alzheimer's disease research is badly underfunded and Pat's foundation has been set up to help raise money for research. To help find treatment. And to help find a cure.
The overwhelming response we've gotten to my 3-point campaign this year has led us to believe we can top last year's donation total. Running 26.2 miles is a small price to pay for research that could one day save lives. We'll have a team run this year. We'll run next year. We'll run the year after that. We'll run until we find what we're looking for.
It's one of the many attributes Pat Summitt has taught me over the past 15 years. Now, instead of preparing for defenses or preparing for television, I'm preparing for her. I'm preparing to help her find treatment. We're preparing to help her find a cure.
You can find out more information on our website at patsummitt.org/teamlawson.