Although Jim Valvano's "Don't give up, don't ever give up" speech at the first-ever ESPY Awards will forever be the event's signature moment, producers of the show came very close to recreating the emotion of that moment Wednesday night.
Hardly a dry eye was left at Nokia Theater in Los Angeles or in living rooms across the country when legendary Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
First, former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning introduced Summitt and explained how her fight against Alzheimer's disease has inspired him. Then actress Reese Witherspoon narrated a 10-minute tribute video highlighting Summitt's accomplishments as a coach and efforts to raise awareness about the disease. And finally Summitt herself took the stage, escorted by her son Tyler, and delivered a brief but moving speech that earned her a standing ovation and surely sent many in the audience scrambling for tissues.
"I've always said you win life with people and I have been so blessed to have great people in my life," Summitt said. "My son Tyler and I appreciate all of your support during this time. That's the next challenge for me and Tyler. It is time to fight. I ask all of you to join me together so we will win. I can tell you tonight, I am deeply touched as all of you heard my story. I'm going to keep on keeping on, I promise you that."
Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA college basketball history, stepped down in April as Tennessee coach less than eight months after sharing with the public that she's suffering from early-onset dementia. In addition to leading the fight against Alzheimer's she will remain part of the program she helped build in a limited capacity, helping with recruiting, analyzing practices and games and mentoring players.
If the next chapter of her life will be defined by her efforts to push for more resources to be devoted to the fight against Alzheimer's, then Summitt is certainly off to a good start.
"We Back Pat" T-shirts and posters were prevalent in the crowd not just at Tennessee home games last season but also on the road. And her touching tribute video and speech at the ESPYs on Wednesday night has already furthered the cause.
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