After Muhammad Ali’s loss to the Heavyweight Champion, Joe Frazer and his second career loss to Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw, he considered hanging up his gloves and walking away. Maybe he couldn’t comeback after all and should just retire.
Ali took some time to assess the situation, He decided not to retire, but knew that if he wanted to regain the title, some changes in his life would have to be made. Changes are difficult, almost everyone hates changes. We all take comfort from familiar sights, sounds, tastes, and the people we love.
Muhammad loved the hustle and bustle, the noise, and especially, the people of the city. After training he would go for a walk and talk with whomever he met, no matter their station or color. Ali would walk through allys, sit on garbage cans and talk to winos, homeless people, gang members, and regular folks. He had a special place in his heart for children and would play games with them. Once when visiting a training camp in the California, Ali commented, “Where are the people? I would rather spend time in prison than be stuck out here with nothing but rocks and trees to look at.“ [2. pg. ]
Ali was at a crossroads, either continue the comfortable, familiar life he loved, or make some huge lifestyle changes. One path would lead to more defeats and an early retirement. The other, while promising nothing but a difficult, demanding, and unknown future, could end in the restoration of Ali as the Heavy weight champion of the world.
All of us who have been diagnosed with Parkinsons, are standing at a crossroads. I was diagnosed in the spring of 2021 and after reading a few articles, books and watching speakers on You Tube, I really thought, “Parkinson’s is no big deal.” I was thinking that Parkinson’s is such a slowly developing disease that with a few minor adjustments I would live into my 90s like both of my parents
We were already planning a hike across the forty-eight miles of Isle Royale in September. I believed walking two to six miles, five or six times a week, in preparation for Isle Royal would keep Parkinson’s at bay. I was standing at the crossroads and was too ignorant to make a good decision about what was necessary to overcome this disease.
Our plan was to hike eight miles a day, across Isle Royale. It sounded so easy. The first day hiking I hit the wall after two miles. I managed to hike two more but found it physically impossible to go any farther. The second day out I decided to take a different strategy and take frequent rests, which didn’t help at all. We made another four miles and camped at Daisy Farm. The third day I couldn’t move at all and spent the entire day in bed sleeping.
This is what it took to wake me up to the fact that Parkinson’s was a very big deal. I was indeed standing at a crossroad and what I did next would have a huge impact on the rest of my life. I needed to face up to the truth not with a cavalier attitude that minimized the situation, but with a determination to learn as much as I could, and to do whatever it took to have a better future.
Ali decided to leave the city and move to a camp in the Poconos, thirty miles outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. Why did he decide to do this when he said he would rather be in jail than train away from the city? Ali writes, “My first fight with Joe Frazier, was the first time in my life as a fighter that it was necessary to rest recover and heal.”[2. pg. ] Because everything had changed within him, everything would also have to change around him.
He writes, “Now I’ve been hiking up hills, cutting down trees, chopping wood, just like the old fighters, and it has given me more confidence, I like the quiet of the night, when at first I couldn’t stand it. I still want people around, but I only need a few now.” [2. pg. ]
It is time for me to:
1. Face the facts
Ali did everything he could to maximize the possibility of regaining the title. He knew what was necessary, in terms of exercise, diet, and discipline, but just because you know what you should do doesn’t mean you’re doing it. He writes, “The training has changed too. I’d strayed from the practice that got me the championship from Liston. I cheated a little here and there and finally it started to catch up with me. I got lazy…I’ve picked up a little weight. I’ve been eating banana pudding and homemade ice cream, constantly nibbling on cookies and Sara Lee cakes, drinking all kinds of soda.” [2. pg. ] Ali faced the facts of where he was messing up and made huge changes.
I must face the fact that Parkinson’s Disease will shorten my life. However, I must also face the fact that it is within my ability to slow the progression of this disease down. Continuing my life as if nothing has changed is like throwing in the towel. I would feel so ashamed if my children and grandchildren came to my funeral and said, “Once he got the diagnosis of Parkinson’s he just rolled over and died.” How much better to pass on a legacy of a person who heard the bad news and said, ‘Everything the doctor said is true, but now we FIGHT!!”
Don’t you hate it in Baseball when a batter just stands there and doesn’t swing the bat. It’s strike one, strike two, strike three, YOU”RE OUT!!! Everyone is yelling, “SWING THE DAMN BAT!!!”
I love the scene in The Lord of the Rings where a solder says, “Too few have come, we cannot defeat the armies of Mordor. Theoden the King answers, “No we cannot but we shall meet them in battle nonetheless.” YES!!! Since we are all going to die anyway, why not go down fighting?
2. Get Physically fit – eat right
One of the first things Muhammad Ali did was to change his diet, “Now I have to be extra conscious of my weight. I have to get the sugar out of my blood. All sugar is outlawed. I eat fresh vegetables, good lamb, veal, squib, fish, good kosher chicken, kosher beef. I drink nothing but distilled water and fruit juices. In the morning I have poached eggs, wheat toast, grapefruit or orange juice. I prefer the unsweetened grapefruit juice because it keeps the fat off my stomach. All of this makes me feel good mentally. It makes me know I have the discipline I need. I’m in control of my own diet.” [2. pg.]
Like Ali, I love ice cream, cookies, soda (in Michigan we call it pop.) and chocolate, my weight had ballooned up to 242 pounds. I have been borderline diabetic for several years. One year ago, I weighted 224 and my blood sugar, when taken first thing in the morning, was in the 105 to 112 range. A few weeks ago, I weighed 242 and my blood sugar was in the 135 to 151 range. YIKES!!! Think about it. My ideal weight is about 190. Most of my fat is on my chest and stomach. It’s like carrying around a fifty-pound bag of cement. No wonder I am always tired. Like Ali I must get the sugar out of my blood. To do this I am now on the Mayo Clinic Diet and fasting from eight in the evening until ten in the morning. (I’m not referring to the bogus Mayo Clinic diet where you eat mostly grapefruit. I bought the book from Mayo Clinic and it is speaking about lifestyle change not just a temporary fix.) As of May 13th, I weigh 228 and my sugar this morning was 113. Please pray that I continue to eat right and lose the weight.
3. Get Physically fit – exercise
The second thing Ali did to get in top physical condition was to enter into a strict regimen of exercise. Remembering that he is not in the same place as he was when he stopped daily training for the last fight, he begins by running one mile. He is on the track by five a.m. and will run the same distance until it seems too easy and then he will add on another mile. “I must have a plan when I am in training, and I try to follow it as close as possible. I have a time to run, a time to get back to my cabin, time to eat, to rest, to go to the gymnasium. I must clock myself, so I spend a certain time in the boxing ring, certain time jumping rope, certain time at the heavy bag. All of these things must be worked out before I get down to business.” [2. pg. 0] He makes a plan, and follows the plan, and in that way, he remains focused and is sure that every part of his body is in shape
Doctors Lieberman and Williams in their book, Parkison’s disease, the complete guide for patients and caregivers write, “If you have Parkinson’s disease, keeping fit is nearly as important as taking your medication.” [4. pg. ] Since I have already confessed that I am not fit, my first goal is to get fit and stay there. My plan is: Boxing on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Ride my bike on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Do weightlifting and ball room dancing in the evenings.
Making a plan, filling out a calendar, is the easy part, carrying the plan out, not so much. I always find something more URGENT to do. What is called, The Tyranny of the Urgent, tends to get the upper hand in my life. Someone said, find something you enjoy doing and that way exercise will be fun. That’s true but how many calories can I burn by reading a book, watching a movie, enjoying a good meal, or making love? When I go to Rock Steady Boxing, I really enjoy the people, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve come to enjoy the exercise as well. I promise to continue trying my best to not only fill out the schedule but to do it.
4. Become a lifelong learner
One thing I have come to see is that not all exercises are equal when it comes to Parkinson’s. Last year I was walking at least two miles at a time, five to six days a week. I didn’t realize that Parkinson’s didn’t care. It was slowly taking over my life. Which is why I continue to read, watch, and listen to every credible report I find about this disease and what will slow down its progression.
Ali never felt like he knew everything he needed to regain and keep the championship. He would study what other people taught about boxing, or other types of fighting. He writes, “My strategy was to be as scientific as I could be when I fought…My plan was to dance, stay out of my opponent’s reach, and use my wits as much as my fists. I tried to get into my opponent’s mind to psych him out. I studied my opponent to learn their strengths and weaknesses. “[3. pg. 2]
Ali was especially diligent when it came to studying his boxing opponent. “I’ve been studying George [Foreman] ever since Herbert arranged for the match. I’ve got films of all his fights, and I’ve studied his record, checking out his opponents, how he beat them. I look for a clue, a key that’ll give me new insights when we meet up.” [2. pg. ] It wasn’t just Foreman; Ali would study any and every opponent he faced. He wouldn’t underestimate any boxer. He knew that if anyone knocked him out, his career was over. Ali would find out everything he could about his opponent: education, religion, relationships, finances, family, political beliefs, etc. He studied his opponents like this just in case he might find something that would give him an edge in the ring.
Ali studied for a fight, which if he lost his life would go on. We learn for a fight too, but it is a fight for life itself. To refuse to learn is to give Parkinson’s the upper hand and it will shorten our lives. I know, people say, “Parkinson’s isn’t a death sentence.” In one sense that is true; certain types of cancer are a death sentence in that you may only have a few months to live after finding out you have cancer. Yes, we all are aware that someday by some means and in some way, we will die. But as long as we’re here we might as well enjoy life as best we can. This will not happen if we stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best.
We should consider lifelong learning on two fronts:
Continue to examine what is working and what has changed. When we returned to the Inn at Isle Royale, (by boat, not on foot) we celebrated with a pizza and beer. The beer was draft and served in a Solo Cup which was sixteen ounces. I hadn’t drunk half when I realized that I was quite tipsy. Zach finished my beer and after dinner I staggered back to our campsite. Some thing has changed, and not for the better.
B. Parkinson’s disease –
The good news is others have done the difficult work for us. There are hundreds of books, articles, seminars and speeches on YouTube for us to watch, read, and enjoy. There’s a list of these things in Appendix A. But since that won’t be posted until the last blog, I want to tell you what has really blessed me.
A. My Parkinson’s Team, the social network for those living with Parkinsons. Articles, testimonials, and stories that will inform, educate and encourage you.
B. BLOG. Moving and Shaking, I write, I knit, I dance I eat chocolate and I have Parkinson’s – Author, Andi Brown. WORD PRESS. Andi is open, honest and funny about the ups and downs, highs and lows, struggles and victories of living with Parkinson’s.
C. The New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Book, Partnering with Your Doctor to get the Most from Your Medications. Second Edition, By J. Eric Ahlskog, PhD. MD. Oxford University Press
D. All You Can Do is Do What You Must, Living with Parkinson’s Disease. A Memoir by Ira Fried. C. 2017. Printed by The American Parkinson’s Disease Association.
There will be two more blogs in this three-part series for a total of five blogs. I will post them as soon as they are finished.
“The body and the mind are only vehicles for experiencing life. This realization helps me live with Parkinson’s.” Muhammad Ali [3. Pg. ]
Please Continue to pray for us and be sure we will continue to pray for you.