When Ali first met him,
Parkinson’s was grinning.
But Ali wouldn’t go down easily.
Now Parkinson’s is scared,
But it can’t run,
And it can’t hide
From this determined man
Asserting his hope and pride.
–Dr. Abe Lieberman [3. pg. ]
After regaining the World Heavyweight title from George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, in 1974, Ali agreed to a third match with Frazier in 1975. This was known as the Thrilla in Manilla and was held on October 1, 1975. It was another brutal match that went fourteen rounds. Even though Ali won by a TKO he was so badly beaten that he seriously considered retirement.
Ali continued to hold on to the title until he met Leon Spinks in February of 1978. Many people, watching the fight commented that something was wrong with Ali. He seemed seriously out of shape, and he lost the title by a split decision. A rematch was set for September of the same year in New Orleans, Louisiana. This time Ali beat Spinks and became the first heavyweight champ to win the title three times. In spite of that it wasn’t one of Ali’s best showing; ringside sports commentators said it was uninspiring, mediocre, and amateurish. On July 27, 1979, Ali announced his retirement.
Some things are not easy to stick with and in 1980 Ali made the announcement that he was coming out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes. Ali was struggling with speech difficulties and tremors in his right hand. Because Ali had been hit an estimated 200,000 times, everyone figured he had been hit in the head too many times. It would be two years before the Parkinson’s diagnosis would be made. However, after passing a physical at Mayo Clinic the match was set for, October 2, 1980.
The Ali- Holmes fight took place in Las Vegas Valley, and it was a disaster for Ali. He seemed to lack direction and the old spark was gone. Sylvester Stallone watching from a ringside seat commented that it was like watching an autopsy on a man who was still alive. [1. c. 45.] Angelo Dundee, Ali’s corner man and trainer asked the referee to stop the fight after ten rounds, making it the only fight he ever lost by stoppage.
Ali’s last fight was on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas against Trever Berbick. He lost this fight after ten rounds, and it was one of his worst performances as a professional boxer. After that fight Ali truly retired. He knew his time as a boxer was over.
Ali had retired from professional boxing, but he now faced a fight for his life against Parkinson’s disease. He writes, “A few years after I retired from boxing, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As a man who spent years developing his physical fitness and athleticism, this diagnosis was difficult to accept. At first there were times when I could push all thoughts of the disease out of my mind. Later, when the physical symptoms could not be ignored, there were periods of frustration and depression, which I had to fight as vigorously as any opponent in the ring.” [3. Pgs. 146-147]
In the previous articles we saw how everything Ali did as a boxer would help us in our fight against this disease: diet, exercise, facing facts, being open to new strategies, never giving up, and maintaining a healthy sense of humor will empower us to live a longer healthier life. In the remainder of this article we will look at how leading a surrendered life will help us face whatever may come our way. We will also see how Ali’s spiritual life was a source of great comfort and empowerment to him.
It may seem strange to say that we must surrender in order to fight. However, I have been so angry about my new reality: the exhaustion, lack of energy, mental confusion, speech difficulties, lack of sleep, and other physical problems, that I spend a great deal of energy in expressing my rage and anger. What a waste of time and energy!! By surrendering and accepting these new limitations I can focus on overcoming them.
Notice how Ali accepts his limitations and even sees something positive coming from it. He writes, “I think maybe that my Parkinson’s was God’s way of reminding me of what was important: for example, how we treat each other. It slowed me down and caused me to listen rather than talk.” [3. pg. 147] Ali goes on to say that he has come to a deeper love for all people because of Parkinson’s.
Notice that Ali focuses on what he needs to do to be understood when speaking and watching where he is going when walking. He writes, “It seems strange that I have an Illness that makes it difficult to move and speak the way I want to. Those two activities once came as easy to me as breathing. Now I have to work hard at speaking so people can understand me. I sometimes have to think about the steps I take.“ [3. pg. 148] italics mine. I still attempt to plow ahead and walk and talk like nothing has changed. I’ve fallen twice this week and I cannot tell you how many times people give me a blank look after I’ve said something to them.
Everyone agrees that with Parkinson’s no two days are the same. For example, I haven’t been to sleep yet and it’s 7:30 am. I accept that when I’m having a bad night and cannot get to sleep, I might as well get out of bed and work. Ali writes, “Every day is different, and some days are better than others, but no matter how challenging the day, I get up and live it. And it is the combination of the will and faith that helps me do it.” [3. Pg. 149]
I want you to understand that Muhammad Ali struggled with the new reality that comes with a Parkinson’s diagnosis just like the rest of us. He writes, “When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s I didn’t know what direction my life would take. I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on medications. For a while I refused to take my medication consistently….my shaking and soft speech were harder for me to accept in the beginning.” [3. Pg. 153] He was embarrassed of the struggle he had speaking and decided not to go on any television or radio programs. He didn’t want to have people feel sorry for him. He didn’t want to let people down.
At some point he came to see that by not going out and talking about the effect Parkinson’s was having on his life, he was letting people and God down. “I began to see that how I handled my illness had an effect on other people suffering from Parkinson’s and other diseases. Knowing that they counted on me gave me strength.” [3. Pg. 153]
I too made an announcement after the funeral I did for my cousin that I was immediately retiring from family funerals, weddings, etc. After reading Ali’s book, I realized that I was letting my family and God down by giving up. Rather I should continue to do the exercises from the Big and Loud Therapy every day. That way I will be ready If, and when, I am asked to help out with a family function.
Below are a number of quotes from Ali’s autobiography in which he express how his faith in God had helped him as the faces the limitations of living with Parkinsons disease.
“As with every other challenge in my life, I counted on God to be with me through this as well.” [3. Pg. 147]
“ I am comforted by the belief that all of this is a part of God’s plan. God doesn’t make mistakes.” [3. Pg. 148]
“I depend on God to give me guidance so I will know where to go.” [3. Pg. 153]
“In the midst of life’s turmoil and confusion there are signs of God’s existence all around us on earth.” [3. Pg. 158]
“God has blessed me. I am a lucky man.” [3. Pg. 167]
“God is working even in the face of catastrophe.” [3. Pg. 178]
“For me, the only thing that is real is the spiritual. Only God and love are real. God’s love is universal. He is with you always. Let Him guide you and you will never be lost.” [3. Pg. 161]
“It is true that it is more difficult to believe in things that cannot be seen or touched. But this is the very essence of faith – believing in things the eyes cannot see. Nothing bad will come out of having faith in God, so why not believe? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” [3. Pg. 157]
I know I said that this would be a three part series, BUT WAIT!! Because you have read FOUR BLOGS already you can read number five absolutely FREE!! No need to order and operators are not standing by. Just click on in about a week and the final blog, in this series, will be ready, prepared, and posted.