*It’s been 30 years since Muhammad Ali started battling Parkinson’s disease, but according to his daughter, the boxing icon still has a lot of fight in him regarding the condition.
“That man continues to put me in awe. He’s such a fighter, still, when at times he seems weak and not able to handle it,” Laila Ali told People about her father, who she says is in good spirits and “knows what’s going on around him,” despite his three-decade long battle against the debilitating disease. “He comes through stronger than ever. He’s still fighting regardless and I love my dad for that.”
Although her kids show endless love to their grandfather, who they call “Papa,” Laila knows there will come a time when she will have to tell 7-year-old Curtis, Jr. and 4-year-old Sydney about the legacy of her legendary dad.
“To them, he is just ‘Papa’ and I’m mom,” Ali said. “But my son is starting to understand how great my dad truly was.”
That point manifested recently when Curtis got confused while learning about Black History Month in school and seeing a picture of a young Muhammad Ali with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“He knows a grandpa that can’t walk or talk anymore, and to see him next to MLK, to him a guy of the past, made him confused,” Laila said. “He was like ‘Papa knows MLK, they were together?’ It was a surreal moment for him because it placed someone he knows now in history.”
People notes Ali’s admission that it was “a struggle” to watch Curtis Jr. understand that his grandfather was an athlete who stood up against social injustice back when he was young.
“The next day he came back to me and started talking about death,” the 38-year-old undefeated female world champion shared with People. “He had put together that MLK Jr. had passed away and that Papa might too. He said ‘I don’t want you to die Papa!’ ”
“It was a tender moment I’ll never forget,” Ali adds. The emotion was too much for him, he covered his face. He couldn’t process it.”
As the interview went on, Ali confessed that she and her husband, former NFL player Curtis Conway, are hoping their kids will find a non-contact sport like tennis to take up.
“We love getting outside and playing sports together as a family, and tennis is great, because you’re not going to have the same impact you might get from a sport like boxing or football. I’m such a fan of the game and of the tennis greats like Serena [Williams].” said Ali, who mentioned her intent to “indirectly discourage” Curtis and Sydney from pursuing boxing.
“I don’t want my kids to play that kind of contact sport where you can get hurt,” she says. “When I was doing it I loved it and I wasn’t concerned about it … but it’s my kids! There’s no way around it, you’re going to get hurt if you box.”