HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — Muhammad Ali is regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time. But one of his biggest battles took place outside of the boxing ring.
In 1984, three years after his retirement, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Khaliah Ali, one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters, says she never heard her father complain.
“He always looked at it as something that was a natural part of his life,” Khaliah said. “I never heard him complain, or say, ‘why me?’ He just took it as all the gifts that God gave me in this life, it’s another opportunity to connect and share and help others.”
Ali lived with the disease for more than 30 years. For Jacob Wertheimer, Khaliah’s son and Muhammad Ali’s grandson, all he saw growing up was his grandfather battle Parkinson’s.
“He never wanted anyone to feel bad for him,” Wertheimer said. “He wasn’t going to let Parkinson’s take away from who he was as a person and what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to help people. He still maintained a very public life post-Parkinson’s. And a lot of things, like whether it be at the Olympics when he came out with the torch, or the hostage crisis…he was afflicted with Parkinson’s at that time, and was willing to show it.”
Khaliah believes her father used his illness as a way to help raise awareness about the disease.
“He took every opportunity he could, whether it was fighting in the Vietnam War or not…or Civil Rights as a black man, or Parkinson’s disease. He used his life to uplift not just one segment of people, but really all people.”
While Ali had a successful boxing career, he did take a lot of hits to the head. A major question that exists is whether or not his boxing career contributed to his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Khaliah believes it was hereditary, as Ali’s brother also has Parkinson’s.
“There’s no question that the boxing itself made a contribution to the overall outcome of his health, but he would of had Parkinson’s regardless,” Khaliah said.
At the age of 74, Muhammad Ali died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Both Khaliah and Wertheimer said they’re doing their part to preserve Ali’s legacy by working with many nonprofit organizations, such as Street Soccer and Help USA.
“He used to say, ‘service to others is the price you pay for your place on earth,’ and that was something he really lived by,” Wertheimer said. “He was considered the people’s champ because he was the man of the people, and he lived for the people.”
“You know, he always said, ‘how am I going to prepare myself to meet God? God doesn’t care that I was heavyweight champion of the world. God cares how I treated people and how I helped people.'”