The Greatest Fight

Lonnie Williams Ali, BA’78  Muhammad Ali  whispers to his  wife, Lonnie, as  she testifies at a  U.S. Senate hearing  in 2002.
Muhammad Ali whispers to his wife, Lonnie, as she testifies at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2002.


When Lonnie Williams married the world’s most famous athlete in 1986, she knew little about the degenerative neurological condition that was just beginning to grip Muhammad Ali’s body. Since then, Parkinson’s disease has steadily continued to rob the Olympic gold medalist and three-time world heavyweight champion of his physical abilities, leaving his wife in the multiple roles of partner, caregiver, and public champion for research funding for the disease.

“I didn’t take it on as ‘our’ illness,” Lonnie Ali recently told AARP magazine. “Better to externalize it into something more positive.”

Ali has testified before Congress on behalf of the National Parkinson Foundation, and her determined efforts helped pave the way for the new Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, near the Alis’ home. The new 10,000-square-foot facility opened last December and is expected to see about 1,600 new patients annually.

About 1 million Americans are currently living with Parkinson’s disease, and most of those individuals rely on a caregiver to provide encouragement, support, and help with life’s daily activities. Ali advocates positive thinking, laughter, meditation, plenty of rest and a healthy lifestyle as key coping mechanisms for those who are caring for someone with a chronic illness—along with a dose of reality.

“You can’t be everything for everyone,” she recently wrote in Reader’s Digest. “I would love to imagine myself as superwoman, but I’m not. I have to make choices that are best for me and my family. It’s been a process, but I am learning not to sweat the small stuff.”

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