Me, Muhammad Ali and the Great Bear Swim


He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. – Muhammad Ali

I think the three of the most common questions I am asked as a marathon swimmer are:

1.       How do you prepare for a swim?

2.       What do you think about while you are swimming? and;

3.       What do you draw on for strength when you want to quit?

The answer for all three is quite simple; Muhammad Ali.

Those of you who know me as a peace loving vegan may find it a bit odd that one of my all-time heroes is a world champion boxer.  One could write books about his achievements in the ring – and many have. There is no disputing that he was the greatest heavy-weight boxer ever, but the boxing side of him is not what makes this man my hero.

Muhammad Ali was a humanitarian who was true to himself and by so being was true to you and me. He did not waver in the face of adversity and was willing to give up everything for what he believed in – and did. He treated all people the same, regardless of their color, religion, where they came from, what they did or what they had achieved.

Although many know Muhammad Ali as a boxer he was first and foremost a peace activist. One of the first signs of this was his refusal to be inducted into the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War. His anti-war stance, a conscious choice he made at the height of his career, lead to him going to jail and being banned from boxing. He voluntarily lost everything for what believed in – a level of leadership and sacrifice displayed by so few.

Billy Crystal, a man who personally knew him well, brilliantly describes him through Muhammad Ali’s eulogy at his recent funeral in Louisville, Kentucky (below).

So when one asks how do you prepare for a swim the answer is quite simple; Muhammad Ali. I think about his dedication to his sport, his drive to be the best he could possibly be and the incredible amount of mental and physical strength it took to see his dream come true. I think about all that he went through as an athlete and as a man and I use that to fuel my fire.

And when one asks me what I think about when I am swimming the is is quite simple; Muhammad Ali. I think about how he must of felt when he “roped-a-dope” – both physical and mentally. I think about how it must have felt to be diagnosed and live with Parkinson’s disease and how he lived on with continued strength, courage and dignity.

When I am swimming the Great Bear Sea and I am in need to draw on strength I will think of Muhammad Ali. I will think about what he stood for, what he did for others and what many tried to take away but could not. I think about what it took to carry on, remain true to himself and true to the world around him. But what I mainly think about how he used his sport to capture our imagination and attention and how he then used that to spread his message of peace.

For more on Muhammad Ali

Posted by Susan

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