Written by Lisa Turner, editorial intern
Blessed with beauty, brains and athletic ability, undefeated boxer Laila Ali is a woman who knows how to stay fit and inspire others. She makes the most of her gifts by giving back to others – this summer, she’s taking part in Stars Earn Stripes, a reality show series that helps raise money for military charities. She also heads up the Women’s Sports Foundation, which helps girls and women from all backgrounds get involved in sports.
With her undefeated boxing record behind her since 2007, Ali was ready to face her next challenge, so she teamed up with Aquaphor to participate in the Aquaphor NYC Triathlon (in between a busy filming schedule!) and finished in 3:06! After all of the swimming, biking and running, Ali sat down with FITNESS to share her training secrets and what surprised her most about the race.
Why did you decide to do the triathlon?
Aquaphor asked me to be an ambassador for the brand and participate in the race, and I’m always looking for a challenge so I had to say yes!
How did you fit training into your schedule?
I’m always looking for new ways to stay fit, but it’s harder and harder with two kids and a busy schedule. With boxing, I had to stay fit because it was my job, but now I have to make the choice to take the time to do it. Usually, exercise is the first thing to go when life gets in the way, but with the triathlon, it became a priority again, as boxing used to be. And I’m doing it publicly, too, so I couldn’t just go out there and do it any old kind of way. As an athlete, I pushed through the pain, kept going, and always had that inner coach telling me to keep working hard.
What surprised you most about training?
I learned a lot more about myself. Before, I was kind of ignorant about triathlons and wondered why anyone would do them. But then I realized, “Wow, this is fun.” Just biking in my neighborhood, finding new roads that I never knew were there, or riding past a new restaurant I’d never seen before. It feels good to just get out there on the bike, relax and get away from the cell phone.
Did you swim beforehand?
No. I knew how to swim but I wasn’t a swimmer. I didn’t realize how much of a swimmer I wasn’t until I had to go do laps. I knew how not to drown, that’s what I knew about swimming! I had to learn all the techniques. It was encouraging to see how my endurance increased day to day, and it happened quickly.
Although softball was dropped from the participating sports in this year’s summer Olympics, Jessica Mendoza knows her way around the Olympic podium. The 31-year-old softball pro is a four-time First Team All-American and two-time Olympic medalist: capturing the gold and silver in Athens and Beijing, respectively.
Despite her many accomplishments on the field, her proudest moment has nothing to do with being an outfield pro, and everything to do with being a mom. Mother to Caleb, 2, Mendoza shared her secrets for balancing hectic schedules and how it feels to look in the stands and see her family cheering.
Between your athletic career, working for ESPN as an analyst and participating in multiple charities, you are one busy woman! What’s it like to juggle so many things with being a full-time mom?
It is crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s about giving your all to the moment you are in and not worrying about what you’re missing or how much time you have until the next thing you have to do. Being present is a very important skill to have.
How do you fit it all in and still keep your sanity?
Honestly, most days you don’t fit it all in, and I have to be okay with that. This week I am in Rwanda with The Girl Effect, trying to make a difference in girls’ lives, but I am missing my family and training. When I get home, I’ll be with my family but away from my ESPN career for a bit. It’s more about giving everything you have for the time you are doing it. I know that every day I wake up is a chance to do something special, whether that be with my family, career or the world.
What do you think your status as an athlete and your experience as an Olympian means to your son?
I think he is learning more about it all the time. I love that he will grow up respecting how strong and amazing women are, and what his mom does. My favorite moments as an athlete now are looking over at him in the stands with his two-year-old Mendoza jersey on his back, smiling up at me.