Like her famous father, Laila Ali is a force of nature.
At 39, she successfully has transformed from nail salon owner to undefeated boxing champion to television personality and author. A wellness and fitness expert, she is using her Laila Ali Lifestyle website and podcast to promote the gospel of healthy living.
We caught up with Ali last week while she was in town to speak at the grand opening of the HealthPartners Neuroscience Center in St. Paul.
The $75 million center — said to be the largest free-standing neuroscience center in the Upper Midwest — focuses on research and treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases. (Ali’s father, boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali, died last June after a long battle with Parkinson’s.)
Q: What inspired you to come to Minnesota to check out the new Neuroscience Center?
A: Just with my father suffering from Parkinson’s disease, there’s a connection there. I knew how important it is for a community to have a place they could go where they provide all the research and rehabilitation and care — everything that patients with neurological conditions need. So when I was invited to be here, of course I wanted to come.
Q: What kind of involvement have you had in the Parkinson’s cause?
A: I haven’t. I have sisters who have taken the lead on that. My older sister Maryum Ali and my sister Rasheda Ali, they have actually delved into Parkinson’s. I really like to focus more on overall holistic care. Because I do believe that a lot of the chronic illnesses that we have are from our lifestyle choices. Our food is our medicine. Or it can be our poison.
Q: Is healthy living a passion for you?
A: It is. It took me five or six years once I retired from boxing to figure out what it is that I’m passionate about. Because I love boxing — that’s my first love. I didn’t know exactly which direction I was going to go. So it took me some time.
I said, “I’m always talking to people about their nutrition and health, writing out meal plans for my friends and trying to encourage them.” That’s something I would do for free. And then there’s a need for the knowledge and the encouragement. People see me as a healthy and fit person, so it just made sense for me.
Q: What’s your workout routine?
A: I mix it up. I’ll spin; I’ll run. I’ll do circuit training. I have a home gym. I might do 15 minutes on the treadmill, 15 minutes on my elliptical stairs. Then I might get on my heavy bag for 15 minutes. Then I’ll finish up with some free weights and abs and maybe some modified pushups. So I just like to keep my body guessing.
And then there are times when I get really busy. I’ve got kids and the business, and I might not work out for a week. Then I don’t feel good, so then I have to get back on again. It’s really about what you do most of the time.
Q: Do you still box as part of your fitness routine?
A: Sometimes I’ll call my trainer up and say I want to come in the gym and work out. Boxing is empowering. Especially as women, to just feel like you’re hitting something and letting go of a lot of aggression and feeling like you can defend yourself if you need to — that’s always a good thing. It just makes you feel strong. It makes you feel good. And it’s a full-body workout.
Q: You wear a lot of hats. How do you find time for fitness and eating right?
A: I need to work out first thing in the morning. For me, it has to be first thing in the morning or it won’t happen. I’m that type of person who once I get dressed, I don’t want to work out. I get my kids off to school. I do the breakfast and pack their lunches. My husband takes them to school. Then I go into the gym.
Q: When you first became a boxer you faced some hurdles. Tell me about those obstacles and how you overcame them.
A: Any female who has decided to box faces some obstacles. But me, being the daughter of the greatest fighter of all time, it was an even bigger deal for me to start fighting. Because No. 1, people were going to compare me to my father. No. 2, people thought that I was too pretty to box. That alone was annoying. If I was unattractive, would that make you feel more comfortable? It just didn’t make sense. No. 3, women’s boxing wasn’t really publicized when I decided to start boxing.
Q: How are you like your father? And how are you different?
A: We’re leaders. I have the same type of confidence as my dad, which I’m thankful for. We’re very strong-minded. Those are the main things. Of course I got some of his ability as well as a boxer. We’re both compassionate people, [but] I’m not as nice as my dad, I would think.
My dad used to let people he cared about take advantage of him. I don’t do that. I’m like, “No, no, no. I see what you’re doing, and it’s not happening.”
A major difference is my dad was more into being public. He loved attention. He loved to have an audience around him. I’m not that way. I’d rather not be noticed. My dad would draw a crowd on purpose.