Laila Ali Opens Up On Late Father’s Battle With Parkinson’s
After watching Muhammad Ali struggle with Parkinson’s disease for decades, boxing champion and TV personality Laila Ali is honoring her father’s legacy and becoming an advocate for keeping others healthy.
Ali gave a speech this week in Baltimore for the American Health Management Information Association, sharing stories about the last few years of his life and how it impacted her family, as well as of his trademark fighting spirit. Ali also spoke last month at Ithaca College on the topic of “Portrayals of Disability and Chronic Illness and Popular Culture.”
It’s a subject that she’s spoken more openly about in recent years. By sharing her story, she hopes that others who have a relative with a chronic disability will know they’re alone.
“I’ve seen it progress, and my father is this independent, strong, brash man. To see him get weaker … for family members, it’s hard to watch,” said Ali in September 2015 to startswithyou.com. “Sometimes he needs to wear a bib when he eats or we go out to a restaurant and need to pack a bag for him. His mind is there, but his motor skills aren’t, so it’s like he’s trapped in his body. You wish you could do more, but you can’t, so the best thing we can do is make him as comfortable as possible.”
She’s also become an advocate for healthy living and being active, particularly among young people, in the hopes of preventing people from needing caregivers until much later in life. She’s currently part of Colgate’s “Healthy Kids Campaign” and has taken part in Youth Tennis initiatives during the US Open.
“When I became an athlete, I started learning about how to take care of myself because I wanted to be the best I could be at what I needed to do. I’m not fighting now, but I still want to be healthy,” said Ali. “I started doing a lot of research and educating myself on a lot of problems we have here in the U.S., especially with heart disease and obesity. People don’t realize they can take their health into their own hands.”
Ali also acknowledged that the stress caregivers have can often lead to health problems, including higher risks for cardiovascular disease and chronic illness. She stressed the importance for caregivers to have their own support system in place and be able to take for themselves.
“My family has definitely been there for each other,” she said. “When you see someone slipping, you have to tap them on the shoulder and hope they do the same for you.”