Laila Ali has spent a lifetime reinventing herself, from a young entrepreneur, to a world champion boxer, to now a health and wellness expert. The daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali joined my podcast "That's What She Said with Sarah Spain" to share stories from a childhood with a famous father, time spent in juvenile detention and a love for boxing that came much later in life than you might expect. Here are some highlights from our conversation
On spending time in juvenile detention as a teenager:
"I went through a really turbulent time in my life as a teen. Thank god I got all that out when I was young. Because I was always a fighter. I always kind of had this really strong personality and just got myself into trouble. But I learned my lesson, and it really refocused me. ... Of course, you don't ever want to ever have your freedom taken away and you don't want to let things get out of control to the extent in which you have to go to a juvenile detention center. I did write about it in my book because your experiences in life is what makes you who you are."
On eschewing sports for beauty school in high school:
"I did not participate in sports growing up. Sports take a tremendous amount of discipline, take focus, take support from your parents in terms of taking you to practice and coming to your games. I was too busy trying to be grown, being on that wrong path I told you about, to really dedicate myself in that way, which is a regret. ... I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because one thing I always knew about myself was that I wanted to be in control of my own life and my own business. I actually went to school for manicuring while I was in high school -- took the bus after school to my next school, cosmetology. By the time I was 18 I had my own business, I had a nail salon. At the time I thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I want to expand this business across the world."
On discovering women's boxing -- and her athleticism:
"I saw women's boxing on television for the first time when I was about 17 -- wasn't aware that it was even a sport. As soon as I saw it I wanted to do it, and I became really excited about it. But then, of course, the next day the doubt and the fear set in, like 'I'm not an athlete, I've never participated in sports. Will I be able to do it?' I thought of all the attention that would be on me and all the pressure -- my dad's legacy and coming behind him and what that would mean. Would I be able to deal with it? It took me about a year of contemplation and I decided to go for it."
On needing to "see it to be it:"
"It wasn't like I wanted to box and I was like 'Oh, I can't box because I'm a girl.' I didn't even want to box because I didn't see it as an option for me. And that's the way it is for a lot of things. Sometimes you just see things and you're introduced to something for the very first time and it's either going to spark your interest or it's not. For me when I first saw it, that's when I said 'Wow, I didn't even know that was even available to me.'"
On the day her father fully accepted her boxing career:
"I remember after I won my first championship title he came in my dressing room and apologized to me -- apologized to me for that time we had a conversation and he told me boxing wasn't really for women, that it's too hard, too tough. I understood that, understood his fear. His baby girl -- youngest out of nine kids -- coming to him and wanting to box. I never took it personally to begin with, but it was really heartwarming for him to let me know that he was wrong. And that women could box. I could box. That was big. I won him over. Not just for me, but for women in general, to kill that stereotype that we can't do certain things just because we're women."
On seeking out passions:
"My love for the sport, my desire to be the best really took away from how hard the actual work was, because I enjoyed doing it. That's the feeling that I'm always chasing now. What can I do, that I actually love to do, that I can be good, that it doesn't feel like work. That's part of what I've taken and applied to every other area of my life, what I'm doing now and why I feel I've been able to be successful at it."
On the consistency and persistence that has led to her many successes:
"Being 15 and saying, 'I'm going to enroll myself and take the bus five days a week after school to beauty school' -- most people wouldn't think as Muhammad Ali's daughter I would've been on public transportation. But it's like, if I can't get anyone to commit to take me [to school] and make sure I'm there and I'm on time, I'm going to take myself. I've always kind of had that attitude, very young. I had to be consistent to get those hours, nobody was making me do it. I had to be consistent to go to the gym and train every night after school and work at 9 o'clock at night and become a champion."
On sharing her life lessons with others:
"Any time I can talk to kids or talk to people who are unsure or unconfident or let their path define them -- things you don't really talk about out loud, but just think them to themselves -- I love to share that story, because people would never guess what I've been through. And I wrote about them in my book. You know, all the things that really led to me ending up in juvenile hall as a kid -- I'm not embarrassed about that. I was a kid. I'm happy to be able to share my experiences just to show people that no matter what happens in life you can land on your feet and be successful."