Jan 09, 2016
She was in kindergarten when he won it back, “rope-a-doping” George Foreman.
“To us, he was just Daddy. He was no big deal,” Rasheda Ali Walsh said. “When we would see him on the television, our friends would say, ‘Oh
my God that's your father!’ Yeah, he is kind of cool, huh!”
Walsh is the second-born of Muhammad Ali’s nine children. She was 14 years old when the Champ learned he had Parkinson’s Disease.
“If it hit harder on him, he would never say it,” Walsh said. “For us, we were kind of like, 'That's interesting,' because outwardly, I didn't
see a different person. My Dad looked the same, he sounded the same.”
The symptoms took hold slowly, but cruelly.
“For it to affect someone like my Dad, who talked so much, the Louisville Lip who couldn’t shut his mouth, it’s frustrating,” Walsh said.
The tremors were clear when Ali lit the torch during the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. But a question from her then-5-year-old son, Nico, would set her on a mission.
“'Why is Poppy shaking,'” she recalled her son asking. “And I said, ‘Well he has Parkinson's,' and I'm like, 'Don't you know?' And then I’m like, wait, this is silly.”
She’d write I'll Hold Your Hand So You Won't Fall: A Child's Guide to Parkinson's Disease, a book for parents to explain Parkinson’s symptoms and treatments.
“I just want to know more about stem-cell therapy because I believe that is going to be our cure moving forward,” Walsh said.
That’s why she visited the Muhammad Ali Center on Saturday for only the second time since its opening. An “advance party” from the American Bus Association joined her Saturday. The ABA’s 4,000+ members are gathering at the Kentucky International Convention Center this weekend.
The travel and tourism show represents more than 1,000 motor coach and tour companies and creates “strong potential for future booked business
and economic benefits….as a direct result of showcasing Louisville to thousands of tour operators,” according to a press release from the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Probably giving $4 million back to Louisville, we need that,” Walsh said.
She’ll be the keynote speaker for the ABA’s opening luncheon Sunday. The group also has named the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research as its “charity of choice” for 2016.
“The more they can give to this Foundation, the more I think it's going to get this closer to the cure that we need,” Walsh said.
Ali’s refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War cost him his heavyweight titles and his boxing license.
Upon reinstatement, boxing served as his platform for stands that transcended the sport.
“Usin' this 'face-the-world-knows' fame and going out and representing truth and helping certain causes,” Ali told an interviewer, shortly
after his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1984.
Thirty-two years later, the Greatest has rounds to go.
“On good days, you won't even recognize him, he talks and babbles like he did in the 80s,” Walsh said.
Such days include advising grandson, Nico, now 15, who already has fought his first amateur bout.
“Right now his goal is to reach young people,” Walsh said. And become the hero to, I think, people who don't really have one.”