As the world mourns the death of Muhammad Ali, you can bet that President Obama is also reflecting on the boxer's legacy. In 2010, celebrating 50 years after he shook up the boxing world at the 1960 Olympics, Obama penned an essay on what Muhammed Ali meant to him. It turns out that the president didn't just admire Ali's tenacity inside of the ring, but his resilience in the face of nearly impossible odds.
Obama, who noted that he was too young to remember Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali or the world heavyweight champion, briefly charted Ali's path to the 1960 Rome Olympics, which included morning winter runs in sweats and steel-toed Army boots in his hometown of Louisville. That commitment, of course, showed that the boxer would stop at nothing to achieve his goals, something that put him on the path to greatness. But Obama most admired Ali's strength in the face of adversity.
In April 1967, after Ali had been crowned the world heavyweight champion, the Muslim boxer refused to step forward for induction into the U.S. military. This eventually led to a prison sentence (which was later overturned), the suspension of his boxing license, and — perhaps most significantly — the removal of his world heavyweight title.
Ali wouldn't box again until 1971, and that period outside of the ring was often described as his years in exile. Although it looked as if Ali wouldn't recover his former glory, as Obama put it, he "shocked the world" when he won his heavyweight title back in 1974. It was that tenacity that really struck a chord with the president. He wrote:
It was this quality of Ali’s that I have always admired the most: his unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity, to navigate the storm and never lose his way.
Obama also noted the boxer's fighting spirit never left him, even as he was gripped by advancing Parkinson's disease. Ali, who was once asked why people loved him, presented his shaking hand: "It’s because of this. I’m more human now. It’s the God in people that connects them to me.”
For the president, that willfulness to see the good through the bad made his story one of legend.
This is the Muhammad Ali who inspires us today — the man who believes real success comes when we rise after we fall; who has shown us that through undying faith and steadfast love, each of us can make this world a better place. He is, and always will be, the champ.