Running with Muhammad Ali

I used to live in the Hyde Park area of Chicago, which is right on Lake Michigan. One early chilly, windy Sunday morning I was running south along Lake Shore Drive. LSD was to my right and I noticed occasional honking of cars when passing a walker in front of me. As I approached the walker, I noticed it was Muhammad Ali. He wore an overcoat with the collar turned up but no head covering. He was by himself and presumably expected greater solitude in his early dawn constitution.

Stupefied, I stopped in my tracks and walked alongside him. We chatted about how he was doing and how much I admired him. He never looked at me but was friendly as I strolled with him. Cars continued to honk as they sped north on the outer drive. We then reached an overpass bridge and crossed that together.

The encounter was after his diagnosis of Parkinson’s, but he spoke laconically and clearly. His walking pace was brisk and he kept focusing ahead of him. I don’t think he ever looked directly at me. To this day, I have never forgotten such an unexpected honour of being alone with this citizen of the world: To actually have this opportunity to interact one-on-one with the greatest Vietnam War (1967) resister, the greatest boxer, one of the greatest advocates for respect for Islam, and one of the greatest advocates for black pride and power.

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