At 13, my dad took my bro and I to the zoo. This time, it wasn’t to see the animals; it one to see one animal few have learnt to tame: the future. His approach was a bit laughable – particularly, for someone like me with the attention span of a midget. Amongst many things, he said ‘I lost my dad when I was 12. You’re 13 now’. That caught my ear. His next line, however, made more impact – for the wrong reasons. ‘I want to see my sons become greater than me’. I almost laughed. It was easily the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. How could a human possibly want anybody to be ‘better’ than him? It didn’t make any sense. Still, if a man I respected chose to make a joke, the least I could do was notice. So, I simply nodded. Now, over a decade later, those words make perfect sense.
Have you ever watched Laila in the ring? Her beauty was usually the first thing people noticed. Her walking towards the ring could easily have been taken as a fashion stunt. I mean, if not for the huge gloves and giant shorts, she would have passed for a model. Make no mistakes, though – the woman could punch a hole through a steel wall. She was as graceful outside the ring as she was ferocious in it.
One could almost feel pity for the women she pummeled on her way to glory. The painful part for supporters (and trainers) of her opponents was how easy she made it look. It was rare for anyone to leave Laila ruffled. No one would notice if she walked right out of the ring onto a Paris catwalk. Funny thing: she only had three years of training before turning pro.
Putting that in perspective, Tiger Woods’ dad had been training him to be a pro golfer since he was 4. Michael Jackson also started grooming for the big stage aged just 4. Even Michael Phelps, the world’s most decorated Olympian, started at age seven. So, there’s no telling the importance of an early start. In fact, statistically, there are some sports (and endeavours) one could never make it in without an early start.
That’s why Laila’s case was all the more peculiar. She chose pro boxing at 18, made her debut at 21 – but was still a marvel. By age 26 when she faced Christy Martin (whom she had watched and supported since she was 15), it wasn’t clear who looked up to who. She knocked Christy about like it was a training session, re-shaped her face – and eventually scored the KO. At 5’ 10’’ and 72kg, Laila, clearly, was not the biggest of fighters. So, there had to be more to her than met the eye – more so as she retired undefeated with three unified titles.
I used to love watching Thursday night wrestling as a kid; usually in the company of Tsylar, my bro and both sets of parents. We were always unanimous in rooting against the bigger guys – who sometimes had to ‘fight’ opponents half their size. Imagine a Yokozuna going up against a Bret Hart – or a Big Show against a Rey Mysterio. The unfair advantage just didn’t sit well with us. So, we all naturally went with the smaller guys – no matter how ill-prepared they looked.
Now, I look back and wonder if there was any justice in such prejudice. Were the big guys really to blame for having such massive bodies? Was it their fault that their opponents were tiny? They obviously didn’t choose the genes that weaved their bodies. All they knew was: the problem (or human) had to be pretty large to pose a real threat. Such is the way of giants.
The say the world is small when you ride on the shoulder of giants. The obstacles that were once definitive now only exist ‘for your information’. Challenges that once took us forever to figure out would now be grateful if they got a glance of acknowledgement. At that height, our heads are literally in the clouds and heaven sings direct in our ears.
The people who still wondered where Laila got her punching prowess from were the ones who didn’t know that her father was the great Muhammad Ali. So, when she put in 3 (short) years of training before turning pro, it effectively counted as 25. That’s all her father’s active years plus a little effort of her own. Now, imagine the experience of 25 years sealed in a body blessed with such youth! Still wondering how it came easy to her?
But,please, let’s not get carried away here; Laila’s prowess, bright as it was, is not the morale of this post. The real essence, which was my reply to the young lady’s question is this: “We should never forget the ones that keep us on our feet”.
It took Ali getting parkinson’s to pave the path of ease for Laila. Paulo Maldini’s father refused to retire until his son was old enough to take over. Theo Walcott’s dad quit his job to go support his son. My boss frequently risks his reputation to make me look good. He’d say ‘the boy can handle it’ and then text me all I need to know before the managers reach my desk. What if I don’t get the texts? What if I don’t understand? What if I still botch things up in spite of his efforts? And, who says I have to look good? It doesn’t affect his worth in anyway. Yet, he still does it – ALWAYS!
Sometimes, our ‘giants’ go through mire; sometimes, they have it tough. Sometimes, those shoulders we ride on ache from the weight of our demands – still, they gladly pay the price to keep us going. It’ll be nice to act like their efforts are worth something.
This post was inspired by, among many other things, shoes. The link shows you a few of mine. Please use the comments box if you wanna share something about a giant that paid a price to get you where you are. I’ve got a really long list – but such details would just make this post unbearably long.
Have a great val’s.