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Q&A with Laila Ali

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On the eve of her first triathlon, world champion boxer Laila Ali spoke with about family fitness, her work/life balance and the 2012 London Olympic Games.

After having two kids, what made you want to do a triathlon?

Aquaphor asked me to be an ambassador for their brand and participate in the New York City Triathlon. I was so excited because, first of all, it’s a natural fit. I’ve been using the product for forever, and I love it, but also because I’m an athlete. I have this desire to compete inside of me, so it was a perfect opportunity. It’s my first tri, and I’m loving it so far.

You’re an athlete, your husband is an athlete, and your father, Muhammad Ali, is a legendary athlete as well. Do you have tips for making fitness a family affair and incorporating the kids?

Fitness for me is something that I’m always promoting. I am the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and our mission is to inspire and empower women and girls as they’re active through sports and physical activity. It’s very important for my family as well. I think that being healthy and fit have to be a priority. Life is always going to be busy. A lot of people say, ‘I don’t have time. I don’t have time.’ We have time for the things we want to make time for. If you make it a priority, you’ll find time to do things, to get out as a family. Get off the Blackberry or iPhone, or the computer as much as you can, and get outside and walk and run and skate or hike. Whatever that case may be, do it together as a family. And definitely, even as a woman and a mother, I always just try to start my day working out because otherwise I get busy. It just doesn’t get done if I don’t do it first thing.

After the triathlon you’re starring in a new reality show, and you’re going to be a commentator at the London Olympics. How do you balance everything while still being a good mom?

I have to prioritize that my kids and my family come first. The tri is a big deal for me, being away in New York for four nights. I don’t like to be gone more than two, three days at the most. So it’s really hard, but I know my kids are going to be okay. I’ve had to learn how to say no to things. I get really busy and then I slow down for a while. Once the summer passes, I won’t have quite as busy of a schedule.

This is a very big year at the Olympics for boxing. It’s the first year that women’s boxing is a part of the Games. What impact do you think that will have on the sport?

I think it will be great. There are a lot female boxers that are very talented, but haven’t had the opportunity to compete on the Olympic level. They’ll have something to fight for and compete for, and hopefully this will strengthen the amateur program as well. I don’t want to encourage people to box professionally, but what’s great about boxing is the amateur program. It’s great if girls or boys can get a scholarship to go to college, box, and get an education. So you don’t necessarily have to become a professional fighter, but you can use boxing as an outlet, and then go on to do something in life where you can use your mind and not your body.

I read that you are an avid supporter of breastfeeding. What made you decide to breastfeed your kids, and what was that experience like for you?

I’m an avid supporter of empowering women to do what we naturally are able to do.  A lot of times now women schedule C-sections. They buy formula. They don’t even give breastfeeding a try because they think it’s too hard. They’re worried about their breasts. We’re worried about the wrong things. The main concern should be doing what’s best for the baby and giving the baby, our children, the healthiest start in life that they could possibly have. We have custom-made milk for our children. What can be better than that? So, if you’re able to breastfeed, you should be willing to try breastfeeding. You know some people can’t, and it’s a gift to be able to do it in the first place. It’s the best thing for the baby. Your baby is going to have a better immune system, the bonding, the attachment, all of that. It’s just natural. What other mammal feeds their child another animal’s milk? Or something that was processed in a factory? Sometimes I just wish women would care about what matters most, so I try to encourage them to do that.

Do you have any boxing strategies that transfer over to parenting or your family life?

Go in with a plan. Do your best to stick to it. But be ready for any changes that can happen on the fly. And stay calm, stay focused. Be confident, and do what you know is right.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “mom”?

I just think ‘responsibility.’ So much responsibility comes with being a mother because we are responsible for how our kids turn out and the adults that they become. As moms, we’re nurturers. So the second word would be ‘nurturer.’ That’s what I think a mom is and should be capable of being. We can do it all. We wear so many hats as mothers.