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Front Page - Friday, January 31, 2020

Former Lady Vol Elzy honors Summitt through SEC Win Challenge

“She instilled in me, and all of the Lady Vols, that work ethic, competitive drive and ambition to dream big and take care of the people that love you,” Elzy, center, says of Summit. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

Kyra Elzy remembers her exit meeting with Pat Summitt like it was yesterday.

Elzy had just completed her senior season at the University of Tennessee in 2001, and Summitt assured Elzy she would always be in her corner.

“One last thing she said is I will walk over water for you as long as I have a breath in my body,” Elzy says. “That memory will forever fulfill my heart.”

Elzy has made it her mission to do the same for Summitt.

In honor of Summitt’s memory, Elzy created the SEC Win Challenge to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease through the Pat Summitt Foundation.

Summitt died in 2016 at age 64, five years after being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type.

In its eighth season, the SEC Win Challenge has raised more than $100,000 through social media outreach alone. Coaches and fans can make a one-time donation or a dollar amount per win for an SEC team of their choice at the foundation’s website.

“I will fight for (Summitt) to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s and continue the Lady Vols legacy and sisterhood and promote awareness for Alzheimer’s as long as I have breath in my body for her,” explains Elzy, an associate head coach at Kentucky. “She has done so much for not only myself, but for all Lady Vols who played and for anyone that touched her.”

Elzy and her husband, Dexter, came up with the idea for the social media campaign as a fun and competitive way to solicit donations tied to school loyalty.

But the fundraising has spread beyond just the SEC with coaches from outside the conference like Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, UCSB’s Bonnie Henrickson and former Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb among those who have contributed.

“It’s really caught on and continues to grow and grow,” Elzy adds. “I usually always start at the start of SEC play, but I had people tweeting me even before that this season. They wanted to take part and they were ready to start donating.”

South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley has donated money annually in support of the cause.

“For me, I contribute because I have someone impacted by Alzheimer’s and for Coach Summitt,’’ Staley says. “She is someone who was stricken by it, and taken from us in an instant. If more and more women that we deem our heroes fall to this disease, we’re not going to have heroes any more.

“I want to make sure we contribute to finding a cure for this as quickly as possible.”

During last year’s campaign, Elzy and fellow Kentucky assistant Niya Butts, a former Lady Vols guard, had a pair of custom shoes designed for “We Back Pat Week” in women’s basketball to put up for auction and raise money for the foundation.

Elzy was flooded with messages from people wanting to purchase the shoes. Among those reaching out were ESPN announcers Holly Rowe and Maria Taylor.

“They wanted to know how they could get those shoes. They wanted to do one for a broadcast and they donated the shoes back to me to auction off,” Elzy adds. “That is just a testament of the positive leadership of Coach Summitt.”

Aside from just being Elzy’s coach, Summitt impacted her life in numerous ways.

“There are no words to describe it, but I definitely wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her,” she continues. “I am forever thankful and forever grateful. She instilled in me, and all of the Lady Vols, that work ethic, competitive drive and ambition to dream big and take care of the people that love you.”

Summitt also instilled a toughness in Elzy that she’s needed over the years. Coaching players hard may not be as tolerated in this day and age, but Elzy is thankful Summitt didn’t hold back.

“It was not always the most pleasant thing when you were going through it, I must admit. But now I am 42 years old and I am grateful for some of the tough love that she gave us,” Elzy says. “Because life is not easy, and you are going to get knocked down and have to be able to get back up and fight. If people put your back against the wall, you can’t quit and she taught us that.”

Through her words and actions, Summitt displayed servant leadership that stretched far beyond the basketball court on a daily basis.

“It was always bigger than the Lady Vols,” Elzy says. “She wanted you to make a difference, whether you reach one person or whether you reach 20 or 1,000 people. Make a difference in someone’s life.”

Summitt’s devotion to her players was on display to the very end.

During one of her final summers on the road, Summitt connected with a group of Lady Vols in coaching. They all went out to eat, and Summitt paid for everyone’s meal.

“In the car ride back I said, ‘Coach Summitt, you didn’t have to pay for us. We have good jobs now. We could have bought our own meal,’” Elzy recalls. “She turned and looked at me and said, ‘No. I didn’t have to. But I wanted to, and you always pay your blessings forward. And how you all will honor me is having the Lady Vols sisterhood stay intact long after I am gone.’”

Elzy has never forgotten, and the SEC Win Challenge is just one way she hopes to always honor Summitt’s legacy.