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Freddie Roach reflects on Muhammad Ali and the burden of Parkinson’s

05
Jun
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Freddie Roach (L) with Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao. Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank Promotions

Trainer Freddie Roach reacted to the death of Muhammad Ali as most have, with sadness and heartache. But for Roach, Ali’s passing may have hit closer to home because of the disease they both had to contend with.

As someone stricken with Parkinson’s disease, Roach, 56, couldn’t help but view Ali’s death in the context of his own mortality. In a phone interview on Saturday, Roach discussed in personal and candid terms the role Ali has played in his own life and how he served as an example for how to deal with the disease. Ali was 74 when he died early Saturday morning of septic shock due to undetermined causes.

“I hope I have as full a life as he did,” Roach, one of the top trainers in the sport, told RingTV.com. “Because I know one day I might die the same way he did. We’ll see. But like him, I’m going to live my life to the fullest.”

Everyone involved in boxing, it seems, has a great Ali story to tell and Roach, who apprenticed under legendary trainer Eddie Futch, is no different. Futch had trained Joe Frazier for his fights with Ali.

Roach met Ali around eight years ago when The Greatest turned up at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club unannounced. “He asked if he could work out,” Roach said. “It was the greatest day we ever had there. He spent about four hours with us and he did magic tricks. What a pleasure. I would have paid him (to come to the gym). He was a very nice guy to everyone who was there that day.”

Roach noted that Ali’s tremors went away as soon as he hit the heavy bag. That has been an enjoyable byproduct of training fighters for Roach as well. It’s been said that Roach has been able to slow the advance of Parkinson’s with the aid of medication and his career as a trainer. “Just like when I use the mitts with my fighters, I never shake,” he said. “I get into a comfort zone.”

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, just three years after he retired, Roach in 1990. There are times when Roach is plagued by self-doubt and questions why he and Ali have had to deal with this disease. Though Roach seems inexhaustible in his duties as a trainer, the disease is evident in the slight tremors.

“Sometimes I would wonder, ‘why me’ or ‘why him?'” Roach said. “But once I get to work I’m fine because I have too many people depending on me and I think I’m very lucky to have the gym and to have boxing because that’s what keeps me sane. It’s a great loss to the world with Ali. He was a great fighter and great for the world of boxing. Hopefully they’re going to have a cure soon (for Parkinson’s), and hopefully they’ll be one before I get to his age.”

Roach added, “Like him, I’ll fight it to the end.”

 

Mitch Abramson is a former reporter for the New York Daily News and can be reached on Twitter at: @Mabramson13.

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