We've lost Muhammad Ali. Fuck Parkinson's Disease! Fuck Boxing!
When you're a child who lives for sports, you have idols. For me it was Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and at the top of the list was Muhammad Ali.
I remember the Friday Night Fights on ABC. That's where I first saw Ali, then Cassius Clay. It was after the 1960 Rome Olympics and before Sonny Liston. He was a kid, only ten years older than me. He was brash but he could back it up. Man, could the dude back it up!
Cassius Clay gets in the ring with Sonny Liston. Big, bad Sonny Liston! And he made him quit...twice!
He changes his name from Clay to Ali but that was okay with me. My parent's generation hated that and that made it better. They hated the Beatles, too. Those were my guys! Revolution!
Ali lost a big piece of his career because he refused to be inducted into the military. He wasn't going to Viet Nam. I could relate to that. I wasn't going to Viet Nam either. The Viet Cong never did anything to either of us.
By the time I headed off to college, Ali was allowed to fight again. He had lost a lot of his skills but still had a lot of heart. My generation's hero was back and we were all-in with him. Fights with Frazier, Norton, and Foreman. He won most and lost some. He was no longer Superman. He was mortal.
I can close my eyes and picture the Thrilla in Manilla and Rope A Dope in Zaire. Two great victories and two brutal fights that changed his life.
In 1980, Larry Holmes beat him up bad...real bad. A year later he fought his last fight and lost to Trevor Berbick. Ali retired after that but it was too late...way too late.
If a boxer is your idol when you're eight years old and he's still your idol when you turn twenty-eight, you know he's been fighting too long. But that was Ali.
It's 1984 and Ali is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Really it was Parkinson's Pugilistica, which is basically PD for fighters. The cause was too many fights...too many punches...too many beatings.
You didn't see too much of Ali after that. You rarely heard him speak. I can picture him at the Atlanta Olympics. The torch is shaking in his hand as he's lighting the flame. Over the last thirty years whenever you saw Ali, your first thought was Parkinson's.
AWARENESS!!! Ali and his foundation raised a ton of money for Parkinson's.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson's about four years ago. Because of this blog, whenever a PD story breaks, I'm always asked to comment and how I'm feeling about it. Linda Ronstadt, Robin Williams, Maurice White. I always get a little introspective and sad. I can relate my disease to theirs. It's easy and normal to do that.
This one is tougher. Ali's disease is different from probably 99% of the people diagnosed with Parkinson's. I can't relate to a guy who got my disease from too much fighting and too many blows to the head. There is one thing that I can hope I'll be able to relate to eventually. Muhammad Ali lived thirty-two years with Parkinson's. I'm only four years into the disease. I'll take twenty-eight more years right now. Most of us with PD would be very happy with that.
So while I'm not sad about losing Ali to Parkinson's, I am sad that I'm losing another piece of my youth. Two of my three sports heroes are gone. I'm saying a prayer for Sandy Koufax tonight.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The greatest of all time was Muhammad Ali.
Ali Bomaye. Rest easy.
Here's the story I wrote about Ali during Parkinson's Awareness Month two years ago.
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