Laila Ali Talks Being a Mom, Staying Fit and More
Written By: Jordan Ligons
Photographed By: Jeff Farsai
Styled By: Melissa Souza
Hair By: Robbi Rogers
Makeup By: Autumn Ingrid Moultrie Laila Ali
Laila “She Bee Stingin” Ali competed in her first world title fight on Aug. 17, 2002 against Suzette Taylor at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Before the fight, the shaky camcorder footage zooms into Laila’s face: “The way I look now, is the same way I’m going to look after the fight,” she says confidently touching her flawless face. Her styled French braids pulled back in a braided ponytail were meant for resistance, maybe. Lauryn Hill and Tupac echo off the dressing room’s walls as Laila throws punches in the air quickly, shifting her feet side to side—uppercut, jab, jab, right, dodge.
The fight begins and as the time ticks away, Laila is in full swing. The crowd started to roar, “Ali! Ali! Ali!” The chant matched the last name on her white, shiny shorts and it only added fuel to the fire; Laila started hammering body punches left, left, right, right. She TKO’s Taylor at 1:11 in the second round to earn the International Boxing Association (IBA) Middleweight belt and continues her undefeated record.
At 19 years old, Laila flipped on a Mike Tyson fight, saw two women boxing on the undercard and fell in love with the sport, prompting her to follow in her late legendary father, Muhammad Ali’s footsteps. A “Psh, I can do that” attitude enticed her to get into the ring with some of the greats, but she left the ring as the greatest.
Now, in 2017, Laila isn’t throwing punches for promos anymore; she’s fighting a different fight.
“People are getting sick due to what they are eating, environmental toxins and poor lifestyle choices,” Laila says about fighting for causes that she’s passionate about, such as the health and wellness epidemic we are facing. “I aim to inform people about ways they can take control of their health and inspire them to start living a healthy lifestyle.”
For this fight, there’s no championship belt waiting for her at the end of a knockout; there’s hope, inspiration, and, overall, a healthier generation.
“It’s a priority for me to stay healthy,” Laila says. “I’ve been at my best when I was boxing, so I know what it takes to get there.” With that being said, she’s fully aware that her lifestyle has changed. With constant screen time on national TV shows like “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” a hubby and two kids, she doesn’t have the mounds of time that she used to strictly dedicate to training. Nowadays, she takes it as a challenge.
“It’s fun to find new ways to stay fit,” Laila says. She sways between a three to four mile run to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and spin classes; regardless, she says, she aims to find that healthy balance. “What I have learned over the years is that one way of eating or working out does not work for everyone. It’s important to educate yourself and listen to your body so that you can figure out what makes you thrive personally,” she says.
Another way that Laila thrives is cooking in the kitchen. A passion that sprouted at the age of nine has since grown into a true love for food. “My mom didn’t really cook a lot, but I loved to eat,” she jokes. “That’s what inspired me to get in the kitchen myself.” Spaghetti, eggs and pancake basics turned into her now craveable Creole-inspired dishes like gumbo and oven-fried chicken. She’s gone on to compete (and win) on the Food Network’s celebrity rendition of “Chopped,” which she notes as one of her biggest accomplishments, has been featured as a judge on shows like “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chopped Junior,” and was the host of “Late Night Chef Fight.” So, for lack of better words, she knows her stuff.
We’ll get the opportunity to get a taste in early 2018 when Laila is set to release her cookbook, “Food for Life,” where she’ll put a healthy, nutritious twist on all of the dishes you love. “We can enjoy food and be healthy at the same time,” she says. During her boxing career, she had to figure out what it took to be the absolute best. She surrounded herself with a powerful team to help her get there, and that included a nutritionist. “He really taught me the value of eating food as fuel.”
And kids need that fuel, too. Laila has had countless partnerships with organizations that teach this concept to children to try and fight childhood obesity, an epidemic that has more than tripled since the ‘70s in the US, according to the CDC. Her goal is to equip kids with the knowledge of the importance to not only know what goes into their bodies, but to establish a need to get outside and physically move their bodies as well.
The Women’s Sports Foundation, which Laila once held the presidential office of, exemplifies just that—girls empowering girls to go out there and continue to kick butt in sports and living a healthy lifestyle.
“The work that The Women’s Sports Foundation is doing to advocate for female athletes has been instrumental in making sure female athletes have a voice,” Laila says noting that women’s athletics have come so far, but there’s still work to be done. “We must continue to uphold Title IX and make sure that female athletes get equal opportunities in collegiate and professional sports.”
Sydney, Laila’s six-year-old daughter, started playing baseball this year, donning the only pigtails on the co-ed team. The importance of girls—all kids for that matter—playing sports is unmatched, Laila says, “I understand how beneficial participating in sports is. You learn skills such as discipline, accountability, self-confidence and more, which can be applied to other areas in life. Girls who participate in sports are also less likely to drop out of school and engage in harmful activities.”
Laila, who went pro at the age of 21, and her husband Curtis Conway, who is a former NFL wide receiver, says that there is no pressure on their kids to be professional athletes, instead, they simply encourage their children to participate. Regardless, they’ll be cheering fiercely on the sidelines.
When asked what her favorite part about being a mom is, the question lingers in the air for a moment; she even repeats it back. “It’s just so rewarding,” she says after a brief pause. “We have so much responsibility raising a little human being; you’re raising someone who can change the world.”
She says this coming from a unique perspective because her father actually did it; he actually changed the world. Renowned boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali struck down social barriers and made an impact worldwide all while floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. “It’s not just one of those things where you say to your kids, ‘Oh you can change the world!’” she clarifies, “No, no, no you can change the world. Like for real. That’s what we do,” she laughs.
Confidence, spirituality, sense of purpose in life and compassion for others are some of the elements she aims to instill in her kids, like her parents instilled in her at a young age. Ultimately, she says, kids learn by example. “I learned a lot from watching my dad, watching how he treated people,” she says. “Kids learn from watching what we do even more than listening to what we say.”
As for Laila’s kids, if they were able to see her in her prime 24-0, 21 knockout-boxing career, they’d have the same idea of their mom today as an entrepreneur, author, inspirational speaker, health and wellness expert—and the list goes on. “I go after what I want,” she says. “I don’t let fear and doubt stop me. Instead I prove to myself, and others, that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. Then, of course, I’m willing to do the hard work it takes to be successful at my goals.”
This mindset isn’t anything new. Even before boxing was in the picture, Laila had already taken classes at Santa Monica College and soon started her own business. “I’ve always been independent and ambitious,” she says. “I went to cosmetology school while I was in high school and earned a license to be a manicurist. I built up my clientele and had my own salon by the time I was 18.”
Through this first venture, she realized that if she had a vision, a plan and added in some hard work, she knew she could accomplish anything. Whether it was putting on her tap shoes for “Dancing with the Stars,” co-hosting shows like “We Need To Talk” on CBS Sports Network and “All In With Laila Ali,” an extreme sports meets human interest inspirational series, she continues to use her platform to not only be a prodigious example for her family, but for all women to look up to and aspire to be.
Notably, Claressa Shields, the 22-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer, goes on record saying that she first picked up boxing gloves because of Laila. Claressa’s dad, a former boxer, told her the story of how Laila followed her dad’s footsteps and pursued boxing, so she was eager to do the same. And in 2016, after her second gold medal win in Rio, Claressa was awarded the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year for an individual sport, bridging the gap of what was, to what is.
That famous, noteworthy last name of “Ali” has become synonymous with iconic, champion and philanthropic, but Laila says she’s not done yet. “I don’t think much about my legacy because I am too busy dealing with right now,” she laughs. “But I will always live my life with integrity and compassion for others. I want to be able to live life to the fullest by evolving into the person I am destined to be. I allow myself space to learn and grow and hopefully will have a positive impact on others during my lifetime.” It would seem that with great genes comes great responsibility; in order to live out this lifestyle, it takes courage, resilience and a large helping of intentional self-confidence.
“I was confident in my abilities every time I stepped into the boxing ring,” Laila says about channeling her fighter mentality in everyday life. “My confidence came from my preparation. When I know I have done everything in my power to be ready for the moment, I am able to let go of any fear or doubt and have faith in knowing that all I have left to do is my best. I pretty much face every challenge with that same attitude.” The challenge to continue to fight for others—girls, children, women, moms, everyone—may seem like an impossible feat, but impossible? That’s nothing.
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Tune Into Laila: Her newest endeavor is her health and wellness podcast, “Laila Ali Lifestyle,” where she has candid, straight-forward conversations. “I’m able to talk about what I want to talk about, who I want to talk to, [and] the way that I want to talk to them,” Laila says about using her podcast as a platform. Above anything else, it bares witness to healthy conversations about fitness, balancing the mom act, eating clean, mental health and everything in between.
Mom Instincts: She admits that being a mother is a huge responsibility; it’s a whole different feeling when you wake up in the morning. She also confesses that she’s losing sleep over the idea of when her son Curtis Jr. grows up, moves out and starts dating: “Oh my gosh, I am going to be the mom from hell. There won’t be a girl who is going to be good enough for my boy,” she says jokingly, imitating her worried self-talk voice. “He’s only eight [years old].”
WWMD? Who does she grab her inspiration from? “With my dad being Muhammad Ali, people used to ask me, ‘Who was your role model growing up?’ and I’d say, ‘My dad.’ I’ve always placed him on such a high pedestal,” Laila says. Now, when she’s in a situation that challenges her integrity, she ponders, “What would Michelle Obama do?” Other inspirational women include Oprah, Shonda Rhimes, Billie Jean King, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Dana Torres.
Can You Smell What The Rock is Cooking? A celebrity guest Laila hopes to have on her podcast—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “He is someone I want to speak to because he was an athlete, like me, but he’s been able to crossover and still be a positive person and a positive role model. He didn’t sell himself out; I admire that.”
-Favorite “Cheat” Meal: Sweets—anything from glazed doughnuts to Peach Cobbler À la Mode
-Sport She’d Play Professionally Besides Boxing: Tennis, volleyball, or soccer
-Favorite Instagram to Follow: Law of Attraction (@lawofattraction0)
-Favorite Spot in Orange County: Monarch Beach Resort
Cook Like a Champ: Laila’s cookbook titled “Food for Life” is available for pre-sale now everywhere books are sold. You can snag your hard copy in January 2018.
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Laila Ali Gives Us the One-Two on Staying Fit, Being a Mom and More