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A Thank You to Muhammad Ali, Who Reminded Me My Diagnoses Do Not Define Me

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On Saturday, I woke up to the very sad news of Muhammad Ali’s passing. Once again the world has lost a hero, one of far too many this year. Ali was one of the world’s greatest boxers and men. He fought for human rights. He fought for equality. He fought for peace. Then, he had, in my opinion, the greatest fight of his life. He fought Parkinson’s.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

As I watched the many videos documenting his life this morning I shed a tear for him. In fact, I shed many. Why? I cannot say I was his biggest fan, though of course I admired his achievements. I live in the U.K., I’m too young to have witnessed the legend in action. I didn’t see how he set the boxing world ablaze while simultaneously campaigning for his beliefs. I didn’t know quite how great he was. But today I learned, and I cried for him.

Today I felt a closeness with Ali. I noted how he was in his prime when his disease reared its ugly head. How it robbed him of being able to box, in many ways of his whole identity. I learned how he wed his wife and built their family after already becoming sick. I saw more of what I already knew, that he didn’t let his illness define him. That he continued to fight it right up until the end. That Ali loved life and lived it to the highest level he possibly could. In many ways I drew parallels with my own life. The loss of my original goals. Starting a new path. Meeting and marrying my husband as a disabled woman. Of course I’m no hero like him, but in some ways I felt I understood him. I felt my battles and his weren’t all too dissimilar.

Thank you, Muhammad Ali. Thank you for showing me and I’m sure many others that though disease can strip us of our health, we control our own dignity. Thank you for showing this world people are more than their color, religion or ability. You saw life from both sides, the invincible boxer and the disabled man. But you let none of it define you. You was still invincible. You remained and will forever be the world’s greatest. You never gave up on yourself.  Thank you for showing me I need to continue to strive to be the greatest I can be too. Rest well.

Lead photo by Unknown – [1] Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 bekijk toegang Bestanddeelnummer 924-3060, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl,

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Originally published: June 6, 2016
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