Growing up watching Muhammad Ali in the prime of his boxing career was a real treat. I wasn’t such a big fan of boxing – two people beating the heck out of each other – I didn’t get it. But Ali was an entertainer.
Besides his famous line that titles this blog, Ali came up with the numerous gems over the years. Some 50 years ago, prior to his championship fight with Sonny Liston, he declared “The crowd did not dream when they laid down their money / that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny”. The humble “I am the greatest”. Or how about this nugget: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”. The charisma – the confidence – the determination he showed can all be seen in just the first few minutes of a youtube clip of Ali during training (click here).
Today, of course, Ali is fighting a different kind of fight. As most know, he has Parkinson’s and is in a very advanced state of the disease. It’s hard to watch him these days and compare him with his days as Cassius Clay. Yet, in a very telling way, Ali’s present state is a beacon of sorts for those with PD. As the disease progresses, it slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, robs us of the life we have known. We may not all be accomplished athletes or famous celebrities like Michael J Fox, but we all get to experience loss to an equally great degree.
Recently, i’ve noted one loss that had me thinking of Ali. As I said before, I’ve never really been that into boxing. I’ve never trained in a gym. I once was involved in a high school fight where, taking one blow to the head, I was knocked out cold. So much for a career in one-on-one fist fighting! I don’t even remember who my sparing partner was on that fateful day but, were we to meet again, he would have an even easier go with me. I have been noticing the gradual loss of strength in my hands. I have difficulty fastening buttons or clips. I can’t scrub dishes. I can’t apply enough pressure to any tools that require this. Make a fist? Deliver a striking blow? Forget about it.
Although, I hasten to add, I may not be without hope forever. There’s a group that’s active in the US and I understand that they are rumoured to be setting up a chapter in Toronto. It’s called “Rock Steady” and it’s a boxing club for people with Parkinson’s. While the thought of jumping into the ring only to get clocked ( a la high school) doesn’t exactly thrill me, I am attracted to the exercise benefits of the sport as well as the potential hand strengthening. Not sure about the look of me in Everlast boxing shorts. Float like a butterfly? Sting like a bee? What? Are you looking at me??