My twin sister Nancy and I have spent a combined 20+ years in the world of sports television, covering countless greats who have helped to redefine their respective sport. Yet it wasn't until the making of our film, Pat XO, that we had the honor of crossing paths with the legendary Pat Summitt. We knew her story, of course, or at least the story of Pat, the winningest college basketball coach in history, but getting to know her as a person would prove to be one of the highlights of our careers. And telling her story in a way that had never been told before would prove to be one of our greatest challenges.
When ESPN and Robin Roberts approached us about making this film, Pat had already announced her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. If we weren't convinced by Pat's storied basketball career, we were by our personal experience with Alzheimer's. As women who watched our grandmother lose herself to this disease, we understood that no matter what memories are taken, there's always a way to connect.
The question was, where to begin. While watching the 2012 final four, it became clear that virtually every person involved in women's basketball was somehow connected to Pat Summitt. There was simply no way to narrow down the interview list, so we didn't. Instead, we decided to send out point-and-shoot cameras to dozens of players, coaches, family and friends who, in some compelling way, had been impacted by Pat. Relinquishing control and waiting to see the outcome proved to be the most nerve-racking decision we'd ever made as filmmakers.
But the results were inspiring and surprising. We received a mix of raw, funny, moving and incredibly personal accounts of a sports icon, who we learned was an even greater friend and mother. The interviews didn't always look pretty, but everyone had an intimate story to tell about how Pat taught them an important life lesson, while providing us with a truly authentic look at a remarkable and complex woman.
As mothers, we feel the heart of the film lies with Tyler Summitt. The relationship between Pat and Tyler is one we can only hope for as our children grow up. On days when work puts too much time and distance between us and our kids, we find comfort in knowing that Pat always found a way to maintain an impenetrable bond with her son. In fact, when my 7-year-old son, Danny, came into the edit room, he was fascinated watching Pat and a young Tyler together in the locker room and on the court. This inspired me to start coaching high school lacrosse this year, and with Danny by my side, I used the lessons that Pat taught me and passed them along to the team.
Pat Summitt is a pioneer in women's sports, and as much as she was feared on the court, she was loved off of it. She brought women's basketball onto the main stage of collegiate sports and changed the game forever. Today, she's facing her most formidable foe, Alzheimer's, and is using the same strength and dignity to fight the disease and the stigma that comes with it. In reviewing all the cameras we got back, there was one powerful consensus. If anyone could beat Alzheimer's, Pat Summitt was the one to do it.
PAT XO premieres on July 9 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN as part of ESPN Films' and espnW's Nine for IX series.
This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post and ESPN, in conjuncture with the latter's 'Nine for IX' film series, which commemorates the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Title IX was a landmark legislative victory for justice that prohibited discrimination by gender in schools and sports. To see all the posts in the series, click here. To learn more about 'Nine for IX,' click here.