May May Ali wants to set the record straight on the illness that impacted her father, and now, it turns out, his brother.
The 48-year-old daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali is participating in the LA BIG 5K on Saturday as a member of Team Parkinson, which is dedicating their 2017 Sketchers Performance Los Angeles Marathon race weekend efforts in honor of the people’s champion. Muhammad passed away at age 74 in 2016.
May May revealed to Fox News that her father’s younger brother, Rahman Ali, is now battling Parkinson’s disease, but she doesn’t believe the neurodegenerative brain disorder is hereditary in her family.
“His brother has [the disease] now,” she told us.
In 2016, Rahman, who also boxed competitively, told the Mirror he feared he may also have Parkinson’s. Fox News could not immediately reach a rep for Rahman Ali and a rep for Muhammed Ali did not return our requests for comment.
May May acknowledged that head trauma, like those experienced in the ring, can possibly be risk factors for the disease, but she also stressed that there’s no definitive cause for Parkinson’s.
The National Parkinson Foundation lists head injuries and exposure to certain chemicals as possible risk factors.
May May said her father was tested for a gene abnormality that could cause Parkinson’s and it came back negative.
She has her own theories about what may be causing the Parkinson's in her family.
“What do they share in common?” May May mused. “... My father and his brother, they [both experienced] toxic exposures before the age of 30. When they were younger, my father’s grandfather was a painter. He painted all the signs of Louisville, Kentucky… He kept a lot of paints in the back of his house that had a strong fume. And of course paint has lead in it. Well, there was an inhaling of some of these fumes [by] my uncle and my father. So that could be something.”
May May said that wasn’t the only time the two brothers were exposed to potentially harmful toxins.
“Another thing they were exposed to was pesticides that were sprayed on the log cabins of the training camp my father used to train at,” she said. “…Wherever my father was, my uncle was there too. So they both were in that environment…”
May May is adamant that her father showed signs of the illness as early as his second fight with Leon Spinks, which took place on September 15, 1978 when Muhammad was 36.
She feels her father was misdiagnosed for more than five years because the term "young onset Parkinson’s disease" didn’t exist at the time. He was initially told he had Parkinson’s syndrome with symptoms that shouldn’t progress, but was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, three years after he retired from boxing.
Rahman, who began boxing alongside his older brother at age 10, stopped fighting in the late ‘60s.
“I think my father’s Parkinson’s came out earlier because of boxing,” she said. “Whereas his brother, Parkinson’s just came out in his 70s, late 60s. My father got it practically in his 30s… His brother has it now, [but] there’s no genetic connection. You can only speculate… I just have my own theories about [what caused it].”
May May hopes that her participation in this year’s 5K race will not only help earn more funds for Parkinson’s research, but also raise awareness. She also aspires to share the stories of the Ali brothers in the hopes of inspiring others to contact their doctors if they fear they could have Parkinson’s.
“My father had great care, of course,” said May May. “He had his little challenges in the beginning, because he didn’t know whether he had Parkinson’s or not, but there are people out there that don’t know where to turn. You can’t stop fighting.”