Muhammad Ali, one of the world’s greatest boxers, died at the age of 74 on Friday night after suffering from respiratory issues apparently related to his Parkinson’s disease.
As the world mourns Ali’s death, many are remembering the surprising story behind how he got his start in boxing.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, his favourite bike — a Christmas present from his father — was stolen from him when he was 12.
Clay was told to find Joe Elsby Martin, a police officer who might help him get the bike back. He found Martin, who was also a boxing trainer, down at a local boxing gym.
Clay was so distraught over the loss of his bike that he told Martin he would “whup” the thief when he found him, according to The New York Post.
After filling out a police report, Martin asked Clay if he knew how to fight. Clay didn’t.
“We got boxing every night, Monday through Friday, from 6 to 8,” Martin told the boy, per The New York Times. “Here’s an application in case you want to join the gym.”
Ali remembers being so completely enamoured with the boxing gym that he almost forgot about his bike entirely.
“I ran downstairs, crying, but the sights and sounds and the smell of the boxing gym excited me so much that I almost forgot about the bike,” Ali wrote in his autobiography.
“There were about 10 boxers in the gym, some hitting the speed bag, some in the ring, sparring, some jumping rope. I stood there, smelling the sweat and rubbing alcohol, and a feeling of awe came over me.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
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