August 4, 1974.
Traveling by automobile I left Columbus, Ohio – destination Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Twenty miles north of Reading, Deer Lake was the location of the training camp for Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxer and, at that time, former champion.
Just a few weeks earlier, during a television interview, Ali invited all his fans to come up and watch him train for his next fight.
Arriving at the camp early Monday morning, I felt like I’d been knocked out when a member of Ali’s entourage told me where he was. I had left Columbus to go to Deer Lake at the same time the champ left Deer Lake to go to Columbus. He was scheduled to return the next day.
Before sunrise, I was back at the camp. The timing was perfect. Ali was just completing a six-mile training run. I was the first fan to greet him that day. We shook hands. I told him I was from Columbus and we laughed about passing each other on the highway two days before. This Ali was turning out to be different than the one I was used to seeing on TV.
During interviews he was loud and crazy. In person, he spoke barely above a whisper. He was polite. Our conversation centered around his upcoming fight with George Foreman, a man all sports writers were calling invincible.
A boxing fan’s dream came true when Ali said he had business in Philadelphia that day and my wife and I were welcome to travel with him. The kindness didn’t stop there. Returning home, I was quick to write a thank-you letter. In it I enclosed three pictures of him that were taken that day. He autographed them and returned them with this letter:
I was delighted to hear from you. You may not think so, but I really appreciate each and every letter that I receive. I feel good now.
I’m in good shape and razor sharp. In case you were a little apprehensive regarding my upcoming fight, let me inform you that this is going to be the prettiest most masterful upset that boxing has ever seen. I guarantee this, and I couldn’t be more serious. Please forgive the brevity of this letter, but I have much to do and must move on. I hope you achieve success in whatever you try to do.
Very truly yours,
Ali knocked out foreman in the eighth round and once again was champion.
Here was a man who, at the time, was the most famous personality in the boxing world and beyond. Celebrities and heads of state sought his company. For himself and others, he earned millions. With all his fame, he did his best to remain approachable. What a privilege to meet him.
I was in the right place at the right time.
And the lesson from the champ, be kind to everyone.
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