Op-Ed

Cherished moments with ‘The Greatest’

Muhammad Ali was driven around the stadium in a 1962 Ford Fairlane during the opening of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Muhammad Ali was driven around the stadium in a 1962 Ford Fairlane during the opening of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park. cbertram@herald-leader.com

What do you say about an iconic individual whom you are fortunate enough to have spent moments with in life? What do you say about someone who, when we brought him to Ireland, packed the hall?

He was a man who said the least but also the most.

When we brought Muhammad Ali to Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland, to Turnpike Road, where his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, came from, to say the streets were packed would be an understatement. With ties from all over the world right there in the middle of Ennis, we laid a stone commemorating the return of a long-lost brother to Ireland.

I will never forget seeing him when I was a 26-year-old, fight Blue Lewis from Detroit, right there in my home of Dublin at Croke Park. The pounding these men gave each other was remarkable, and you would have to have been there to hear it to understand.

When I said to him many years later, as I saluted him at Alltech’s annual symposium event in 2009, “You know when you were in your prime, and I was in my prime, I always reckoned that I could take you in three.” He looked at me, looked at the audience, and signaled on his head with his finger that I was loopy.

At the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Ali was most at home when he was greeting the children from Haiti. They sat on his knee, and he tickled their tummies, and they knew they were safe with him.

I sat with him in the car waiting to go into the Kentucky Horse Park outdoor arena for the opening ceremonies of the Equestrian Games, and University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari had gone in the stadium just before us. I said to Ali, “Let’s hold back. This is your time.”

As soon as he heard the crowds, it was like an electric switch went off in his brain. He waved to the left and to the right to all his adoring fans. That is the Muhammad Ali I will always remember.

I have a collage of pictures in my office of our memories together, and not a day goes by that I don’t see it. To have had the opportunity to meet him when we brought him across to Ireland to visit his great-grandfather’s home, and to watch his face as we relived his fights on the plane’s movie screens on the trip over is something that I will never forget.

We lost an icon. We lost a great man.

Pearse Lyons is the founder and president of Alltech.

  Comments