Muhammad Ali and Parkinson’s Disease

Doctors think the head trauma Muhammad Ali suffered during his boxing career might have contributed to his Parkinson’s disease. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 more are diagnosed with it each year. Boxing may have influenced Ali’s disease, but the data are far from conclusive. His family has suggested that his disease was due to the exposure to pesticides he had experienced earlier in life. But the truth is that we may never know what caused his Parkinson’s—or that of the vast majority of those diagnosed.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which cells in a part of the brain that controls movement begin to die. As a result, patients slow down, lose coordination, and tremble.

Ali referred to his condition as a “trial” from God and spoke of preparing for death.

He said he thought about it during each of his five daily prayers, but he did not give the impression it prayed on his mind. If anything he seemed at peace with the idea.

He would say that speaking in public was something he had to strive to overcome: “I realize my pride would make me say no, but it scares me to think I’m too proud to appear in public  because of my condition.”

Ali never complained.  He would wake, shower, and sit in his arm chair watching old boxing reels.  There were no complaints.  No time blaming others for his fate.  “He would always say to his family, ‘These are the cards I was dealt, so don’t be sad.”  

How did Ali stay so positive? “He would say, ‘I’ve got the best-known face on the planet. I’m the three-time heavyweight champion of the world. I’ve got no reason to be down.”

Through expert care, research and grants, it is the goal of the Parkinson’s Foundation and patients everywhere to make the world a better place for people suffering with Parkinson’s until there is a tomorrow without this dreadful disease.