I'd like to close out this fistic week with a little story to demonstrate my love of Muhammad Ali to those who, like me, have been troubled to see his holy name in the same headline with that of the American president.
Ali died on June 3, 2016. That was a Friday night, and most of us woke up to the news on Saturday morning. My wife and I were in Des Moines, Iowa, where I was running in that city's famous Dam to Dam half-marathon. The first part of the race is run through farm fields outside the city, and as I ran with Ali on my heart, I thought of the scenes in the great documentary When We Were Kings, showing Ali running in fields outside Kinshasa, Zaire, training for his 1974 bout with George Foreman.
The handsome, charming, black-proud Ali was beloved in Africa, and as he ran, people ran with him, and on the side of the road children shouted, "Ali, bomaye!" (Ali, kill him!)
As I ran those first miles in Des Moines, "Ali bomaye" became my mantra—"Ali" breathing in, "bomaye" breathing out.
Then I got an idea.
What if I started yelling it?
Maybe others around me would start yelling it.
And then maybe the sound of it would carry to packs of runners ahead, and they would start yelling it, too.
And maybe the whole chant would carry forward that way through all the runners, all the way to the leaders of the race.
And all of us would cross the finish line, chanting: "Ali, bomaye, Ali, bomaye!"
And that would be the banner headline on the Sunday Des Moines Register:
Drawing on Ali's own willingness to upset people with his mouth, I screwed up the courage to try. I embedded myself in as big a pack of runners as I could find, and I started yelling, "Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye!"
Nothing. Not even an annoyed glance.
Humiliated and enraged—and also apparently in a little better shape than I am today—I spotted another pack of runners, a couple hundred yards up. I left my hapless group and charged up there, embedded myself again, and tried again, with the same result.
Eventually we came into a neighborhood on the outskirts of town, and my wife and my in-laws were there, to root me on.
With that big crowd around me and people lining the streets, I tried once more. My wife understood the scheme instantly. As I passed her, she immediately began to chant, "Ali, bomaye, Ali, bomaye, Ali, bomaye."
She was still chanting that behind me, one voice in the crowd, as I ran on, alone.
That was good enough for me.
Because it had to be.
Ali, Ali, Ali, Ali, Ali, Ali.
Leave a Reply