Four-time undefeated boxing champion Laila Ali knows how to keep her eyes on the prize. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that easy: She started having vision problems at the age of 11. When she started her boxing career, she had to get corrective surgery because contact lenses were not permitted in the ring. Over the course of the next 15 years, Ali’s eyes changed, requiring her to wear contacts again.
“Our eyes are always changing, and that’s why it’s so important to get your eyes examined every year,” Ali tells SheKnows, explaining why she decided to partner with Think About Your Eyes — a national public awareness campaign about the importance of scheduling an annual eye exam with an optometrist.
Now that she’s retired from the ring, Ali has been focusing on building her lifestyle brand, as well as her family, marrying former NFL player Curtis Conway and having two kids: son Curtis Jr. and daughter Sydney.
And when it comes to raising her children, Ali still relies on lessons she learned from her father — boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali.
“Compassion, integrity and self-love were really big in our household,” Ali says. “My dad lived that in his life. He was a perfect example for me — not only just teaching me on a regular basis with his words but actually his acts of kindness all the time. Being a global icon, everyone loved him and he had so much power, but he used that platform and power he had in a positive way and inspired so many people. So for me it’s just a matter of really staying true to yourself, true to your own beliefs and at the same time, having tolerance and compassion for others.”
After learning from her father’s example, Ali wants to be the same kind of role model for her own kids.
“I feel it does start in the home,” she says. “I think the parent is the first teacher, and we shouldn’t rely on anyone other than ourselves to teach our children what’s right… so that when they go out into the world, they understand that there’s going to be people who don’t look like them, act like them, have different beliefs, and that doesn’t mean that we can’t all get along. So that’s something I appreciate that I learned from my father that I’ve passed on to my children.”
Another thing Ali has in common with her father? She’d prefer it if her kids didn’t get into boxing (or football).
“I’m going to, of course, support my kids in anything they want to do, but I don’t encourage either of them to box or play football. My husband played in the NFL, and it’s just a very brutal sport,” Ali explains. “I’m definitely not going to encourage them to be fighters, but I do know that you’ve got to support [your] kids. It’s their life. They’re going to live it — the same way I chose to box when my dad didn’t want me to but I did anyway.”
Ali does recognize the benefits of encouraging her kids to participate in sports, but says she’s going to steer them toward tennis, golf or baseball instead — just like her father did to her.
And among the sports, yearly eye exams, charitable work, being a lifestyle guru and being a leading voice in women’s sports, Ali has learned to simultaneously manage the various aspects of their lives.
“At the very least, we’re all juggling 10 or more things,” she says. “What it comes down to is putting your priorities in order and you running the day, not letting the day run you.”
Ali stresses that a lot of time women don’t know how to say no because we’re taking care of everyone else, which sometimes can mean our own needs are neglected. But she also knows the importance of self-care and planning, like carving out time to meditate and “not putting yourself last.”
“Because if you fall apart, everything else is going to fall apart,” she adds, “because you know that we’re the backbone of the family and society and all of that. It’s really important to take care of yourself.”