Being Ali – A promise to the greatest man I never met

Ten years ago almost to the day, on December 17th 2006 I arrived in Tunisia with my family. Aside from being abroad for a holiday, the thing that excited me the most was the book that was tucked away in my backpack. It was Muhammad Ali’s auto-biography ‘The Soul of a butterfly’.

I was 14 years old and had just discovered Ali, a man who would tell the world what he was going to do instead of letting the world tell him whats expected of him. I was hooked the moment I heard him speak for the first time. Never in my life had I seen anyone like Ali – he talked like a king, walked like a giant, spoke from the heart and stood for something over and above himself.

By this point in time I had watched every video I could find on him. I had his poems, speeches and press conferences on my mp3 player and I would listen to them as I walked to high school and during my breaks.

“I told you! All of my critics, I told you all that I was the greatest of all time!” – Words echoing in my ears day in day out. At one point I could name every one of Ali’s opponents, the year of the bout, how it was won and in what round. I even made a youtube channel that is still there to this day.

I studied the way he made his interviewers nervous when talking to him, the way he commanded the attention of a room, the way he held his head, his posture, the way he spoke in a way that made everyone around him listen. I would rewind parts of interviews to watch the same 3 seconds over and over again so I could attempt to recreate in my mind what it must have been like to be in the presence of him.

For a period of my life Ali was the only person who allowed me to believe in myself. At the age of 14 nobody gives you permission to tell the world that you are the greatest and to uphold a mindset of supreme confidence at such a young age. I would wake up with an Ali poster in front of my bed that reads ‘I am the greatest… I said that even before I knew I was’. The poster is still there 10 years on and I awake to it when at my parents’ home.

I’m not going to pretend that at the time I didn’t know what I was doing to myself – it’s no accident that I developed my confidence and mannerisms from Ali. I knew what was happening, and I knew I was conditioning myself. Teachers at school were too busy asserting their upper hand on us. They knew best, and they knew what was best for us – and our parents did the same when we got home.

Not for me. I knew what I wanted to do in my lifetime and who I wanted to become – and it was Ali that made me believe I could do it. Ali taught me how to find strength in being different, and I wasn’t blazing my path alone since I had Ali walking by my side every step of the way.

I look back over the past 10 years and think who I have become, what keeps me up at night, my ambitions, my fears and how I want to help the world in my lifetime. I think about how they may be different had I not found Ali.

The day Ali passed I cried like I have never done before. In the days following I would stare at the posters and artwork of Ali in my apartment for hours. I always thought that I would one day meet Ali but it was not meant to be. I revisited all of the old videos I watched as a teenager, I listened to the speeches again and I was reminded again of who I was and what I am here for.

My promise to Ali is that I will stay true to the path that he helped me walk when I was a young teenager. As important as that, is the promise that I will pass on his principles to ensure others can grow into the best possible people they can be, just like I was able to.

I look at where I am today and think of pivotal moments in my lifetime – the morning of exams at high school, meeting important people, walking into interviews, difficult conversations, moving to new cities, travelling across the world to work and any moments of heightened fear and risk. Before every one of these moments I would look in the mirror and I would see Ali staring back at me. I still do.

The best day of my life was the day I realised I am in control of my destiny, I am the captain of this ship and I’m free to be who I want be.

It was the same day that I realised that I am Ali.

Thank you for finding me