An extract from “The Soul of a Butterfly” by Muhammad Ali and Hana Yasmeen Ali
“A newfound FRIEND
It was a hot day in May. I was at Fighter’s Heaven, my training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, getting ready for my fight against George Foreman. After a long and hard workout I’d gone back to my dressing room with Gene Kilroy, who helped run the camp.
We were sitting there when there was a knock on my cabin door. Gene went to see who it was. A young boy with health problems wanted to meet me. I told Gene to send him in, and seconds later the boy appeared with his father. The boy wore a heavy sweater and a wool cap. I asked him why he was wearing that hot sweater and cap.
The boy told me that he had leukaemia and that he was wearing the cap because all his hair had fallen out, due to the chemotherapy that he had undergone.
A wave of sadness passed over me, and at the same time I realised how lucky I was to have healthy children. Gene took a picture of the twelve-year old boy with me and as the boy prepared to leave I asked him his name.
“My name is Jimmy” he answered, and he added that I had made him very happy. I looked at him and told him that I was going to beat George Foreman in the upcoming fight and that he was going to beat cancer.
Jimmy gave me a hug. “You’re right!” he said.
As the boy was leaving I said, “Jimmy, don’t forget what I told you.”
He gave me a big smile, waved goodbye, and walked out the door.
A couple of days later I had the picture of Jimmy and me blown up and sent it to the boy’s father. On it I’d written:
‘To my friend Jimmy,
You’re going to beat cancer. I’m going to beat George.
Love, Your friend,
Two weeks later, while I was on the way to do my road workout, Gene told me that the boy’s father had called to thank me for the picture. He’d gone on to explain that Jimmy was now in the University of Pennsylvania hospital and didn’t have much more time to live.
This made me feel so sad that I told Gene to let the boy’s father know that we were driving down to the hospital immediately to visit little Jimmy. Three hours later we arrived at the hospital and went straight up to Jimmy’s room. When I walked in he was lying in his bed and I saw that his skin was as white as his sheets were.
Jimmy looked up with bright eyes and called out, “Muhammad, I knew you would come!”
I walked over to his bedside and said, “Jimmy, remember what I told you? I’m going to beat George Foreman and you’re going to beat cancer”.
Jimmy looked up to me and whispered, “No, Muhammad. I’m going to meet God, and I’m going to tell him that you are my friend.”
* * *
The room was silent and we were in tears. I hugged Jimmy goodbye and later that night when we returned to my training camp, none of us spoke much.
I guess God had a bigger plan for Jimmy because a week later Gene informed me that Jimmy had died and that I was invited to attend his funeral. I couldn’t go, so I asked Gene if he would go and represent me, and he did.
When Gene returned from the funeral he told me that there had been an open casket and that the autographed picture was beside Jimmy’s head.
Jimmy’s death was a powerful lesson in the midst of all the activity and preparation for my job–a boxing match– of how fragile and precious life is. We must always be mindful that each day is a gift from God that can be lost at any moment”.
No-one will ever be able to comprehend how much Ali inspired me to use whatever voice I have to try and make a difference. To stand up for what I believe in and to do right by people. Whenever I need some motivation and inspiration I pick up this book and find hope, I find courage, I find humility. I find a freedom fighter, with a gentle, loving nature, but with a fierce courage that only some possess. People like Muhammad Ali are rare and I have been blessed to know a time where I was able to see his impact on people. I pray to God that nobody ever diminishes his influence that he had in this world, and that he is not forgotten as just a boxer-because he was so much more than the greatest boxer of all time.
The world will be a better place if we all take snippets of his nature and instil it within ourselves. We truly lost a legend on 4th June 2016.
I pray that Allah welcomes Muhammad Ali with love and mercy, and that he is amongst the finest company in Jannah. I pray that his family have patience in this difficult time and draw strength from the love the world is displaying; I pray one day we can all be as solid in our faith as Ali was and be role models for future generations. Above all, I pray that Ali is at peace. We love you Champ.