Lately, I’ve collected 3 more heroes, people that have demonstrated to me courage and risks to show how bad they really wanted something. One person is a household name – at least he was in the past, the other you’ve probably seen a few pictures surfing and the third person is unknown.
Some of us are drivers and some others spend a good portion of our lives wandering…trying to determine what’s next in life? Yet others have this ‘fire in the belly’ or passion that transforms what they’ve done as simply remarkable, they’ve reached greatness. My 3 heroes are in that 3rd category. They’ve displayed courage time and time again and have risked everything to well… get what they want.
Like most of us they’ve had fears, but those fears were substituted with determination. What they’ve done makes people think: ‘I’ve got a long way to go still and that’s OK’.
How far can you push your limits? How can you push your fears? Can you also become truly remarkable or great?
Think about someone you admire today, a leader. As you read about my three heroes in these next articles, consider your leader and ask yourself: Does my leader have similar traits? Can you do the same?
My first hero was Muhammad Ali, born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. He scored a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome in boxing and became pro in October 29, 1960. Then in 1964, he defeated Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ of the world. Ali was black, colorful in every way you can imagine, a wonderful boxer and a Show man. As a child I remember seeing his left jab – it was like a lightning bolt, hence his favorite expression: ‘”float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.
He had an unusual boxing strategy. He would let his opponents hit him repeatedly till they got tired then Ali would finish them off. He was loud, cocky, funny and yet in the boxing world he was a true Gentleman. As children we all wanted to be like Ali. ‘I am the Greatest’ he would say…and he really was.
Like most successful professional athletes he commanded all the headlines and had the bank account to show for it. He was at the pinnacle of his career, his prime since boxers can’t be on top for very long. No opponent could beat him and all the fans loved him. Then it happened. That moment of courage I referred to earlier.
On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Later in 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring 3 years later. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.
7 years after refusing to go to Vietnam in January, 1974, Ali defeated Joe Frazier. On October 30 of that same year, an underdog Ali bested George Forman and reclaimed his heavyweight champion belt at the hugely hyped “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, with a knockout in the eighth round.
Why did he refuse to enlist? As Ali said:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.
But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…”
On December 11, 1981, Ali left the ring for the final time, with a 56-5 record. He is the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times. In 1984, it was revealed that Ali had Parkinson’s disease.
Most people will remember as I did when we saw him light up the torch for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It was a poignant moment, because Ali’s Parkinson’s disease was making his arm tremble as he was holding the torch. The whole world remained breathless in that moment.
Ali passed away on June 3, 2016.
So what’s so special about this fellow? Refusing to enlist was a major gamble for Ali on all fronts. He could lose the respect of his worldwide fans …“Humm Heavyweight Champion yet fears to go to war?!” He risked being imprisoned and worse he lost the ability to box in his prime.
He was courageous. He believed that Vietnam was a mistake and he opted to refuse to enlist losing his title, his future income and the celebrity that comes with it. How many people do you know that would take that kind of a plunge? Someone that could be faced with shame as opposed to adulation; it was big price to pay.
The fighter in Ali decided to re-start and proved again to the world that he was the Greatest – it took Ali 7 years to regain the title.
It’s no wonder that I, like many others in the world cried for someone we’ve never met when we heard of his passing. The man was a legend, an icon and a role model. One wonders if his boxing strategy of being hit repeatedly led somehow to the Parkinson’s disease. He continued to inspire the young and oppressed by reminding them that anybody can make it given that he too, was oppressed – his mother recalled one occasion where he was denied a drink of water at a store because of racial segregation.
In 1999, Time Magazine named Ali one of the 100 Most important People of the 20th Century. He was crowned Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and Ali was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005.
So the next time your dream goal seems unattainable, remember that one’s dream takes time, tenacity and courage. As Ali has taught us, you can ‘always come back up’ no matter what people throw at you.
Finally, ask yourself…How bad do you want it?
Check out my TEDx talk! You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pe_3VLI-LEA