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Monday, February 20, 2017

“May May” Ali stars at Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s Fundraiser

February 20, 2017

By Jeff Zimmerman
Photos: Robert Hughes

It was not shocking that Maryum “May May” Ali packed the house last night as the featured guest at “Meet The Champs V” at The Fort Worth Club in downtown Fort Worth, Texas for former 2x world champion Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s annual fundraiser. After all, her dad, “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali, loved being around people so being an Ali and big crowds is just par for the course. Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s was created to help those inflicted with the dreadful disease of Parkinson’s that has no cure where he leverages non-contact boxing drills to help with such things as balance, hand eye coordination, mental focus and muscle memory.

The star of the night was May May as she is affectionately known and definitely got her dad’s gift of gab. She shared very honest and personal stories of his fight against Parkinson’s, both the ups and the downs.

She also talked about some of the possible contributing factors to her dad’s disease such as the pesticide that was sprayed on the log cabins at her dad’s training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania where he spent much of his time. Also Ali’s dad, Cassius Clay Sr. was a great sign painter in Louisville, KY painting markets, liquor stores and much more. The cans of lead paint were kept in the back of the house where Ali and his brother grew up and the fumes were extremely powerful. May May only found this out a year ago that her dad inhaled these fumes as a child. 

She suggested that perhaps the boxing and all the head trauma brought out the Parkinson’s a little sooner, but the inhaling of the paint and pesticides could have a played a bigger role as Ali did not inherit the Parkinson’s gene.

One of the highlights of her speech was about the book she wrote about her dad, “I Shook Up the World: The Incredible Life of Muhammad Ali,” which would go for $2,000 in the live auction. May May threw in an autographed picture of her dad as a bonus to the highest bidder. She wrote the book for kids as a way to tell her dad’s history but also make it appealing with pictures based off the many poems he told, for example, where he says “I’ve wrestled with alligators” prior to his fight with George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, the book illustrates Ali wrestling with an alligator.

She recalled the painful fights with Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick at the end of his career when the family knew he was slowing down and was slurring his speech. The family wanted him to lose against Berbick so he would stop fighting, which turned out to be his last fight and he lost. May May described going to school after that fight was like going to a morgue.

She talked about her dad as this independent, alpha male and his denial phase where he didn’t want to take his medication or do the speech therapy. He would hide his meds as he didn’t like the way they made him feel. On one occasion, the news showed a story how the medication he was taking could be harmful, so he went a whole year defiantly not taking them.

Ali lost a lot of trust in his doctors as they now said his Parkinson’s was going to progress more after 11 years of telling him differently. It was a period of 3 or 4 years where it was difficult to get her dad to do what he was supposed to do.
Ali was an optimist by nature, a glass half full person and he had nothing to compare himself too as he didn’t know anyone with the disease. So he just kept moving and kept the faith he always had.

She recounted the lighting of the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as a turning point for her dad. She was worried that his shaking would get worse if he was nervous and she jokingly said, “daddy don’t burn the whole stadium down, don’t drop the torch, daddy don’t drop it.” It was a huge moment for Ali seeing all the love and support as he had been away from the spotlight for some time.

She went into detail on how her family learned to cope with his disease and rotated visits with her siblings so her stepmom could have time to rest too. May May also shared how her dad got an impulsive control disorder, punding, caused from the dopamine medication. He loved pretty things in magazines and would rip the pages out and put them on the floor, he could do this for hours. If you tried to intervene he would get upset, so instead, they would bring him magazines and spend time with him.

On one occasion, they went to a party at a mansion Ali had once owned 15 years earlier and had big table books. Due to the punding, he wanted to rip the pages out of the books, but the family left early to avoid anything happening.

She discussed how exercise helped her dad immensely after first not wanting to do it. He was a boxer, so he had a gym built at his house. He loved magic. He boxed and did his magic. She recalled the wide eyes he got when the family celebrated his 74th and last birthday with a magician.

In addition to the exercise, her dad chose prayer and his faith saved him. He was a spiritual person who believed in the higher power and never questioned Parkinson’s and why he got it. He said others had leukemia and cancer and were in pain, Ali was not in pain.

Ali was a proud man and made others stronger too on how he handled himself. May May described a time after the Atlanta Olympics, when a lady approached her shaking and said she never went out because people would stare at her and she felt lonely and isolated. But after seeing Ali, she went out to the coffee shop and to the grocery store with her daughters and when someone would stare, she would say, “I have what Muhammad Ali has, what are you looking at,” which drew a roar from everyone.

In closing, May May shared a touching poem she wrote about her dad, called PEARL, paralleling his life with and without Parkinson’s.
Deborah Hawkins of the WBC was also on hand to present May May and the Ali family a plaque for their efforts towards Parkinson’s disease research and in the support of Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s program. Local ESPN radio personality and longtime boxing announcer Mark Elfenbein participated in the live auction portion of the program that included the “I Shook Up the World: The Incredible Life of Muhammad Ali” book and a 10 person trip to Destin, Florida that went for $4,000. The event included several other auction items that were available for bid and a sit down dinner.

Past keynote speakers have included Rich Clifford, former NASA Astronaut who had a secret battle with Parkinson’s during his space travels, former 4X Boxing World Champion and Hall of Famer Terry Norris and CIA’s Chief of Disguise, Tony and Jonna Mendez.

For more information on the program or to make a donation visit

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jazboxing

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