“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” - Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is know for his amazing boxing skills, famous insightful & bold quotes, and his dedication to physical conditioning. Recently, on a hometown trip, I had the opportunity to step inside this boxer’s very own tiny, historic training camp.
Tucked away on a windy hillside road in Schulykill County, PA, you wouldn’t think much driving of the little Linkin Log structures that looked more like a boy scout camp than ‘The Champ’s’ camp. In fact, growing up only three minutes away, I never once thought of exploring these ‘old’ cabins any further.
Sprinkled outside, between the Ali’s cabin, the barn, the tiny mosque, and his sparring partners’ cabins, are giant boulders. Supposedly, (according to Guernsey’s online article) Ali’s dad was a painter and used these rocks as a canvas to hand paint names of the incredible boxers ranging from: Jack Johnson, Floyd Patterson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray (Robinson) and Joe Louis.
Sparring partners like Mr. "T" even started out as a body guard of Ali at the camp, and greats like: Sugar Ray Leonard, and Larry Holmes were rumored to be there too.
I can't even describe the combination of feelings I had on that hot August day, walking through the doors of his gym…the humidity, the history, the awe, the imagination running wild… the fights that took place here, the hype before and during the fights, the famous people who visited here like the Jackson Five, and Elvis. In stark contrast, thinking back to what I would have been doing a few miles down the street, such as running around the woods, or playing in the creek.
I can only imagine the quiet hard work Ali put in leading up to these aggressive, technical, and strong bouts, Ali’s feeling of confidence that he trained so hard, sparred so relentlessly, against fighters to be physically and mentally prepared, touting himself the greatest, and eventually proving it time and time again. I could feel it, as I was standing in that gym, looking at the giant painted mural of the greatest boxer of all time.
That greatness continued as I left the Ali’s old training camp and headed off to New Jersey to a another type of training facility. This one was very different but no less extraordinary with a brand new breed of athletes.
I walked into a new playground of athletes. Ones running, jumping, climbing. People of all ages, sizes, and shapes. Sometimes deceptive, but always possessing extraordinary speed, or strength, or skill, or inspiration, or creativity. Whatever it was they were exploring to find it, or hone it, share it brightly to inspire and support the others who were doing the same things. A beautiful thing to experience.
These extraordinary and talented group of creative, innovative, connected group of individuals, understood the value of community, commitment to physically pushing your body, and creatively pushing your mind to look at things in a different way, to train in a different way, to think in a different way, and support each other in a different way - Ninja Warriors. Each ninja having amazing assets and backgrounds to make them extraordinary and help push the group to a higher level of excellence. The whole mindset of overcoming obstacles and pushing yourself beyond perceived limits is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course unlike Ali, I like the ninja style. They didn't have to tell everyone that they were great at x, y, or z. It was obvious.
Walking into that gym, I honestly didn’t even want to admit to anyone that I tried the course in Venice Beach only completing three obstacles. But then a friendly ninja, or two, or three, took the time to reach out and connect. That’s all it took was a few people reaching out, and connecting, for me to walk out of the gym feeling like a small part of the extraordinary community.
I hope to someday embrace being a ninja warrior, to reach out like these ninjas did to to make a positive impact, to greet, inspire, and welcome a new brand of athlete to the community. One that has “…a desire, a dream, a vision… last-minute stamina… having to be a little faster…having the skill and the will...The will being stronger than the skill…” to conquer, not the opponent facing you in the boxing ring but the almighty Mt. Midoriyama.