The Lesson I Learned from Pat Summitt’s Shoes

Editor’s note: The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is losing a valued staff member as Chelsea Rose recently accepted a new position to serve as executive director of the Tennessee Future Farmers of America Foundation Inc. As a going-away present, Mike Knotts gave Chelsea the last word and his April column.

As a high school senior, my parents took me to the campus of Vanderbilt University to watch the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team take on the Commodores. This was a real treat because I just so happen to be among the biggest Pat Summitt fans around.

I remember stressing over selecting the right Lady Vols T-shirt to wear. I even thought about what I could bring to the game should I get close enough to Coach Summitt to get an autograph. I settled on an orange fleece scarf.

The game was thrilling. I had seen many Lady Vols basketball games on television, but this was special. I was in the same room with these near-celebrities. When the game ended and Coach Summitt was giving radio interviews on the sideline, with my scarf in hand I slipped and snuck my way to the velvet rope separating the living coaching legend from hundreds of adoring fans.

As she wrapped up her last interview and turned toward the locker room, I watched her in amazement, completely taken aback by her intimidating stature. In an attempt to take in every moment near the woman who had been such an inspiration to me in my own athletic career, I looked her over from head to toe and could not believe my eyes. Pat Summitt, coach of the 12-time (now 18-time) Southeastern Conference Champion Lady Vols, and little ol’ me had the same shoes!

This revelation seems like nothing now, but in that moment I finally looked past the seven national championship titles (now eight) and could see a woman I could identify with. Pat Summitt was a human being.

Have you ever brushed shoulders with a famous figure? It can be surreal. I am far from that moment when I got to shake the hand of the woman I had cheered for through so many games and nail-biting moments. However, even now, I get butterflies in my stomach remembering that brief interaction and the instant when I realized that she is human, like me.

In my career, I interact with elected officials from across the state on a regular basis. We, the voters, elected these men and women from our home communities to represent us, and they go to work in the Capitol with our concerns in mind.

However, many constituents visiting their lawmakers are nervous and hesitant to fully voice their policy concerns. I suspect that is because, similar to Pat Summitt, these public figures are constantly seen on television, heard through the radio or featured in newspapers.

Despite the media attention and the larger-than-life imagery sometimes associated with Tennessee’s lawmakers, they are human. We elect them, and they sculpt their political posture based on our feedback. Their reasons for seeking office are varied, but one fact is true about all Tennessee legislators: They are accountable to us, the voters.

As electric cooperative members, we are the caretakers of our low-cost, reliable power supply. That means we should readily communicate with our elected leaders and let them know that the cooperative model of business matters. That model of business was established by our parents and grandparents and, today, gives us ownership of arguably the most important resource we use — electricity.

So, in this election year, let’s abandon our nervousness and confidently approach the elected leaders who are there to defend what matters to us. After all, they are human.

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