Laila Ali’s list of accomplishments is extensive. She’s a four-time undefeated world champion boxer, TV host, author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, wife to former NFL star Curtis Conway and mother of two. She’s also stunning, towering over most with long flowing hair and a glowing smile. But her life hasn’t been flawless, and that’s what she wants us to know.
Born in South Florida, Ali returned in March as part of the fifth annual Broward College Speaker Series, which invites notable personalities with a variety of perspectives to the community.
Speaking to a crowded auditorium, Ali filled the vast space with her powerful yet soothing voice and plenty of laughter. It almost felt like the audience had been transported into her living room—to sit on a new friend’s couch with a cocktail in hand as she regaled us with stories.
“People always think they know about my life, but they don’t,” she says. “They just assume because I am Muhammad Ali’s daughter it was easy.”
Through her struggles, which include a three-month stint in juvenile detention, six months in a group home and breaking into a sport that didn’t recognized women, the 40-year-old shared her valuable lessons about demanding respect, pushing through fear and staying focused.
The eighth of nine children, Ali’s view of her famous father was different from everyone else’s. He was a fierce competitor in the ring, but she experienced firsthand his kindness, compassion and humility. He loved performing magic tricks for fans, and had a continuous parade of legendary houseguests, like Prince and Michael Jackson.
When Muhammad found out his baby girl was becoming a boxer, he wasn’t pleased. Ali, on the other hand, was ready to do the work, even without her father’s blessing.
“You take a beating,” she says. “People are hitting you every day. But I had a vision and never lost focus.”
Once Muhammad saw Ali’s drive and winning record, he apologized for trying to dissuade her from her passion.
“Don’t worry about what others think or how you might fail,” she says. “I fail a lot, but I continue to follow my heart. When I started to box people said, ‘You are too pretty to fight,’ but it wasn’t about them. If I had bought into everything the naysayers said I would have never made it into the ring.”
Upon retiring from boxing in 2007, Ali became a health and wellness expert, launched the Laila Ali Lifestyle brand and released her first cookbook, Food for Life, which hit bookstores earlier this year.
She advocates for whole foods and adding one thing to the daily routine instead of focusing on everything that needs to be taken out. Ali’s addition: a morning smoothie with maca powder, kale, berries and coconut oil.
As for exercising, the world-class athlete reminisces about being overweight and learning how to run when she first started to train. So she suggests starting slow and finding something you love to do, like a group class or running with friends.
“I want to empower people to live their best life,” she says. Her committed and sincere tone lets us know it’s exactly what she’s going to do.