Summitt was hired in 1974 as the Lady Vols head coach at 22

Credit: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

Legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, 64, died early Tuesday, surrounded by her family and a handful of her former players – who flew in from around the nation – after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, her son has said.

Summitt was hired in 1974 as the Lady Vols head coach at 22. She resigned from her coaching job in 2012, one year after going public with her diagnosis of early-onset dementia.

“I think it is what it is,” Summitt told PEOPLE in February 2013. “I didn’t want to hear it [the diagnosis]. But it was reality, you know. You don’t want to run away from it. For me, it’s very important to keep living my life.”

The basketball team sent out a tweet early Tuesday, writing that Summitt had an “unparalleled impact” on the university and soon released a lengthier statement.

“Pat was the greatest coach of all time; her fierce spirit will live on through her players, and through all of us who were inspired by her on a daily basis. Our sincerest sympathies go out to Tyler and all her family and friends,” university chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in the statement.

“Words fail to express how proud we are that Pat Summitt’s name will forever be linked to the University of Tennessee.”

A pioneer in women’s sports, Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight national titles as head coach – and the team dominated the sport in the late 80s and 90s, winning six titles in 12 years.

Summitt retired with a career record of 1,098-208 in 38 seasons and 18 NCAA Final Four appearances.

She served as co-captain on the silver-medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1976. Eight years later she coached the Olympic team to a gold medal.

Summitt, who has the most career wins of any Division I men’s or women’s basketball coach, spent a portion of the past few years leading a high-profile fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Her Pat Summitt Foundation is focused on research and education, along with providing support services to patients and caregivers.

In the days before Summitt’s death, friends, family and former players rushed to the iconic former coach’s side, as others sent well-wishes via social media.

“Hope you don’t mind that I ask for prayers for a dear friend close to the end of her journey,” Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts tweeted on Monday. “Would mean a lot to her fam, Peace be w/ you.”

During a Monday appearance on the morning show, Roberts wore orange, the University of Tennessee’s color, and led a tribute to the sports legend.

On Monday, the university released a statement from Summitt’s family, noting that the “past few days have been difficult for Pat as her early onset dementia … progresses.”

One day earlier, Diamond DeShields, a current Lady Vols player, sent out a string of tweets about Summitt before the icon’s death.

“She’s The reason why I’m even here man #PrayForPat hang tight in there Coach. We got your back,” DeShields tweeted on Sunday.

In another tweet, DeShields wrote: “With a heavy heart, I’m reflecting on MY HERO, THE LEGENDARY PAT SUMMITT!”

Before her death, Summitt’s long time friend and former Olympic coach Billie Moore told PEOPLE that Summitt displayed the same grit fighting Alzheimer’s as she did coaching.

“She has good days and bad days,” Moore says. “When she got diagnosed, her strength has always been her determination, her stubbornness. Her attitude was ‘no matter what you throw at me, I can handle it, and I can defeat it.’ ”

WNBA star Glory Johnson uploaded a heartfelt message to Instagram in honor of the late sports legend on Tuesday.

“Today we lost Pat Summitt, an Inspiration to all, Loved by all. An individual who has made EVERLASTING impressions on the lives of many and that will never be FORGOTTEN,” Johnson captioned a photo of herself hugging Summitt.

Muffet McGraw, head coach of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, remembered Summitt in a tweet on Sunday, writing, “To Pat, the best role model a woman in coaching could have – she is what we all aspire to be.”

Summitt , who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012, is survived by her son Tyler, 25, former head basketball coach of the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters.