Merrily Orsini's Thought Leadership

The Champ Lost His Final Fight: Parkinson’s Disease

Inspiring. An inspiration. RIP Muhammad Ali, the Louisville Lip, our cherished native son, a practicing Muslim, a conscientious objector, a quiet and peaceful man matured from a restless and vociferous young man. And, of course, a past heavyweight champion of the world, three times. A champion who met with and was adored by paupers and kings, Christians and Jews, all temperaments and persuasions.

Ali had left us long ago, however, because of his Parkinson’s Disease. He has been unable to communicate with his voice for decades now. He knew that his disease was debilitating, so, unlike so many other people who know they have a chronic debilitating illness, he planned for his imminent limitations. He also planned for his eventual death. He faced each adversarial event in his life as he faced his adversaries in the ring. He looked at what he needed to do to win. “Winning” however, when one has a chronic disease, is in the definition of the person with the disease. Ali never backed down from public appearances, even as his disease progressed. If he was capable of attending and participating, he did. He knew how inspiring he was, even as the disease ravaged his once giant body.

There are so many lessons to be learned from Muhammad Ali’s life, but one important one is that you can conquer obstacles if you have a passion for the outcome and practice persistence. It did not hurt that he was such a beautiful person, literally on the outside, and within as well. He had a presence, not just because of his size and the fitness regimen he practiced to be in good shape as he aged, but because of who is was. He introduced many of us to a perspective unvoiced before his time. Agree with his decisions or not, you have to respect that he stood up for his beliefs even when he was severely punished for so doing.

He sought greatness and achieved it. He did not let falling down keep him down. He always got back up, and he stood strong and proud when he did. He even stood strong and proud with the tremors of Parkinson’s obvious to all. A man of deep convictions, he practiced his religion in his life’s choices and his life’s ambitions.

The image and iconic importance of Muhammad Ali to Louisville is greater even than our own Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. In fact, they pale in comparison. He is globally recognized, globally respected, and his mission to create peaceful dialog through education is one that resonates now more than ever.

In honoring him today, would it not be such a better world if we made his vision come true and try to be more understanding of our similarities as opposed to hating each other for our differences. And, if we followed his personal example of accepting our talents and making the most of them, and accepting our limitations and planning to accommodate them.