x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Laila Ali brings inspirational, healthy message to Abu Dhabi

We have a chat with four-time world boxing champion, who will take part in the Inspirational Women of Fitness event.

Laila Ali says her message in Abu Dhabi is the same as in the US:
Laila Ali says her message in Abu Dhabi is the same as in the US: "Encourag-ing women, in particular, to be strong and physically active." Courtesy Laila Ali

The four-time world boxing champion has arrived in the capital to take part in the Inspirational Women of Fitness event on Friday at Al Bateen Secondary School. Under the banner of International Women's Day, the 35-year-old daughter of the legendary boxing hero Muhammad Ali is here to raise awareness about diabetes and extol the benefits of a healthier lifestyle for children and adults.

Champion idea

"When I was invited, I thought [the initiatives] fell right in line with what I do in the States: encouraging women, in particular, to be strong and physically active," says Ali. "In the US, we have a big problem with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. So, whenever I can spread the message about eating healthily and exercising regularly, I do."

Power packed

Ali is one of four high-achieving women participating in the Abu Dhabi workshops, not least among them three-time USA national level NPC champion Rachel Omolewu. Aerobic, stamina-building dance classes such as Zumba will also be held by leading instructors from home and abroad.

Ali will don her trainers for a Body Combat and Body Attack combo class, as well as deliver health and nutritional advice to schoolchildren and their parents during her stay.

"For women, it's especially important to provide healthy food options and meals, as we're the backbone of the family," she says. "And I'm a believer in what you do 90 per cent of the time is what matters. For example, when it comes to treats, I can't really deny my kids some of the things I enjoyed as a child but I prefer to choose wholesome, healthy snacks for them and buy from food companies I trust."

Goal getter

One of the ambitions of the project is to help children recognise and achieve their goals through the series of interactive sessions and fitness classes.

Although now retired from boxing, Ali says she continually sets herself new challenges and tries to tackle them in diverse, physically exerting ways.

"I like to mix things up these days with Pilates and weight training," says the mother of two. "A variety of exercise is important, especially with having small kids. And I don't really box anymore. I might hit the heavy bag in my gym but my regimen is nowhere near as intense as it was before."

Ali began boxing when she was 15. The inspiration for her career was not as obvious as one might presume: "I have the utmost respect for my father as an athlete and as a man, but I actually entered boxing from seeing women fighting in the ring, not him," she says. "But he's set a great example for me and set the standard very high."

Father's footsteps

This will be the first UAE trip for Muhammad Ali's youngest daughter. She remains open-minded and says her expectations are to encounter "warm, inviting people" during her brief visit.

"I haven't had the opportunity to discuss my trip here with my father but he's always loved this part of the world," she says. "Especially because he's a Muslim and loves Muslim people."

As for his current condition, the iconic "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" boxer is in better health than some are speculating, states Ali.

"There have been reports in the media recently that actually were untrue," she says. "Yes, he's unwell and has Parkinson's, but he's stable and is doing 'normally' for him. It's a progressive disease and he won't be with us forever but he continues to make me proud."

Tickets cost Dh200. For more information, go to www.inspiresports.ae or www.timeouttickets.com

rduane@thenational.ae

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