From the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion’s essay for “This I Believe”:
Throughout my entire boxing career, my belief in my abilities triumphed over the skill of an opponent. My will was stronger than their skills. What I didn’t know was that my will would be tested even more when I retired.
In 1984, I was conclusively diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Since that diagnosis, my symptoms have increased and my ability to speak in audible tones has diminished. If there was anything that would strike at the core of my confidence in myself, it would be this insidious disease. But my confidence and will to continue to live life as I choose won’t be compromised.
Early in 1996, I was asked to light the cauldron at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course my immediate answer was yes. I never even thought of having Parkinson’s or what physical challenges that would present for me.
When the moment came for me to walk out on the 140-foot high scaffolding and take the torch from Janet Evans, I realized I had the eyes of the world on me. I also realized that as I held the Olympic torch high above my head, my tremors had taken over. Just at that moment, I heard a rumble in the stadium that became a pounding roar and then turned into a deafening applause. I was reminded of my 1960 Olympic experience in Rome, when I won the gold medal. Those 36 years between Rome and Atlanta flashed before me and I realized that I had come full circle.
Nothing in life has defeated me. I am still “The Greatest.” This I believe.