Laila Ali dishes on life, work and charitable pursuits [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

laila ali

Laila Ali retired from professional boxing in 2007, but she has not slowed down in any way, shape or form. She has her show on OWN called Home Made Simple, she just released her first cookbook Food for Life: Delicious & Healthy Comfort Food from My Table to Yours! earlier this year, not to mention that she is a busy working mom and lifestyle blogger.

She is a real shero!

Charitable pursuits are incredibly important to Laila Ali.  She has joined forces with the organization Think About Your Eyes to help spread the word about the importance of a yearly eye exam.

The lovely and multi-faceted Laila Ali spoke with Michelle Tompkins for about her personal life, her new book, her show Home Made Simple, her thoughts on women's boxing, her new business venture, her memories from Dancing With the Stars, her personal story about why she wants to encourage people to get annual eye exams, how Think About Your Eyes can help, a sweet story about her dad and more.

Laila Ali

Michelle Tompkins:  Hi Laila. How are you doing today?

Laila Ali:  I'm good. How are you?

Michelle Tompkins:  Very well. Thank you. And what's new with you these days?

Laila Ali:  Well, where should I start? Just getting ready to start another season of Home Made Simple which is a show I host on OWN. It started about working with Think About Your Eyes to encourage families to schedule their annual comprehensive eye exams for themselves and their children. And as you may already know, I'm super passionate about just inspiring and encouraging others to be the best versions of themselves holistically. So I'm really excited to help Think About Your Eyes spread the message for families to take care of their eyes.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, where are you originally from?

Laila Ali:  I have been in California pretty much all of my life except for when I moved to Las Vegas for a few years to train there when I was boxing. But I was actually born in Miami Beach, Florida, but I only lived there for probably less than 30 days until I was old enough to take a plane back here to Los Angeles.

Michelle Tompkins:  And you live in LA now?

Laila Ali:  I do. I live in Los Angeles area.

Laila Ali dishes on what she has been doing this summer

Michelle Tompkins:  Now is there anything you want to say about your personal life? I know you're a mom.

Laila Ali: I have two kids. I have a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old. I have three step kids. They don't live with me. They're older now. But it's summertime so it's hectic around here with the kids out of school. We already did our summer vacation. We went to Beaches: Turks and Caicos which was absolutely amazing. And now my kids are looking at me like, 'Now what?' And I'm like, ''Hey, what are you talking about? We already [laughter] did our summer vacation.' So I'm looking at some camps for them now. But they're having fun just having time off from school and doing a lot of Fortnight playing around here, so [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins: Fortnight really is a super big hit [laughter].

Laila Ali:  Oh, my God. It's killing me. It's like they constantly are asking me to spend money, so. But I mean, I like letting them have freedom to just do what they want. Their school keeps them very disciplined, and they have a big workload so I think it's good for them to just be able to wake up, stay in their jammies, do what they want to do for a little while, and then we'll get back on track.

Laila Ali and her thoughts on boxing and MMA

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, you retired from boxing undefeated. Do you have any hopes to go back to the ring?

Laila Ali:  Definitely not. I am 40 years old which is old for a boxer. So there is no plan to go back to boxing. I retired in 2007. Although in my mind, I feel like I could if I wanted to. But I know I've seen many fighters, including my father, try to make a come-back because they thought that they could, and it just didn't go over well so I think I'll stay out the ring. And I got a million other things keeping me busy, so.

Michelle Tompkins:  Your dad was originally opposed to women's boxing, but he attended a lot of your matches. Did he change his mind, or was he just being a supportive daddy?

Laila Ali:  He definitely changed his mind in the sense that—because I remembered when I first started boxing, and when I told him I wanted to box and he tried to talk me out of it. And one of his comments was, ‘It's not for women. It's too hard.’ And he did come back to me after I won my first world title and said, ‘You know what? I was wrong. You're really good at boxing. You can do it. Women can do it.’

But it doesn't necessarily mean he wanted me to do it. Boxing is a brutal sport and, obviously, I think you know that, but there's a lot that goes into it behind the scenes and he just didn't really feel that it was any place for a woman. Because you have to deal with the business side of it and train alongside lots of men in a dirty, grimy gym, and that's just not something he ever saw for me or for women, but he had a right to his opinion. But, like I told him, it didn't stop the show. I was going to still fight regardless of what he thought. So it didn't really matter [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you still follow boxing? Are there any people that you suggest that we should be watching or paying attention to?

Laila Ali: No. And I do follow to an extent because even when I was fighting there were certain fighters that I watched. I wasn't like somebody who just always turned on a fight for you know, no matter who was fighting, but there are a couple of females out there. There's a young lady named Katie Taylor who is an amazing boxer from Ireland and there is Claressa Shields, who won Olympic gold in middleweight bracket. She's an undefeated fighter.

Mikaela Mayer, who-- actually, it's funny. She used to train in the gym with me and now she went to the Olympics and now she's fighting with as a pro. So having more women’s fighting on television, which is great because when I was boxing there was no women's boxing in the Olympics and there were certain networks that actually said, ‘We don't show women's boxing.’ So they can't get away with saying that now with all the women's rights movements and all that. Are they going to catch heat for it? So I think that it's wonderful, so yeah.

There's some great girls out there. I've posted about them on my Instagram page and you do a little research you could find it. So I think it's important that we support women as much as we can, especially as women.

Michelle Tompkins:  What do you think about the women in the MMA? I mean these are some women who could really kick some butt.

Laila Ali:  I mean MMA is just another form of fighting, so they definitely have their own game and their own set of skills. Yeah, but they definitely can fight too. I mean look at Ronda Rousey, how far she was able to go and how successful her career was in terms of actually making money at it. And now she's in the WWE, so there's a platform out there. You just got to work hard and make sure you're bringing something to the table in terms of your skills.

Laila Ali on DTWS, her show on OWN Home Made Simple, her cookbook and new business venture

Michelle Tompkins:  What was your favorite part of being on Dancing with the Stars? I love seeing tall women be so graceful.

Laila Ali:  Yeah. Dancing with the Stars was a lot of fun and it was a perfect segue for me out of boxing and into everything that I'm doing now and really show another side of myself. It was a strategic move for me to go on there and it was one of the most fun times I've had in my life. During the show, it didn't feel that way because it was so much work, but after, when I look back on it, I'm like, ‘Wow. That was fun [laughter].’ And then, of course, to be able to go to the finals.

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you keep in touch with your partner or anyone from the show?

Laila Ali:  Not really. Joey Fatone, who beat me, because I came in third, he came in second and Apolo Ohno came in first. But it was us three in the finals because that was when the final three on the last show. That was my real goal was to make it to the last show, which I did. I've competed against Joey on Chopped and beat him, so I feel like I got him back, and yeah. We still stay in touch.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now tell me about your TV show.

Laila Ali:  So my show is called Home Made Simple. It's on OWN. It comes on every Saturday and it's in its seventh season. I mean we just finished our seventh season. We're getting ready to start our eighth season, but I was the host of the seventh season. And it's an hour-long show and we go in people's homes. And these people all have amazing stories to share with the world and we give them a makeover. So it's one room in their house and then I also get into the kitchen with them and cook with them. I show them how to cook a healthy meal out of my cookbook, Food for Life, which I released in January. And so it's just been a lot of fun for me to work with these individuals, share their stories, at the same time do what I love, which is get in the kitchen and cook with them.

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Michelle Tompkins:  Now, you have a business degree. Are you working on any new products or projects now that you're selling or anything?

Laila Ali:  I'm actually really excited about my nutrition product that I'm coming out with-- nutrition and supplements that I'm going to launch. I'll probably soft-launch in September, so it's right around the corner now. So I'm working really hard on now and then I'll do a big launch in January. But a line of supplement like protein powders, meal powers, meal bars, multivitamins. But I've partnered with a very high-end—not high-end but high-quality manufacturer of products. So I'm really excited about it.

Michelle Tompkins:  Are you allowed to say the name yet, or not until you launch it?

Laila Ali:  My product's name is You Plenish, Y-O-U Plenish. But it is my own product. So it's not like I'm just endorsing a product. It's my product that I'm creating so I'm excited about it.

Laila Ali and her passion project Think About Your Eyes and other charity work

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, please tell me about Think About Your Eyes.    

Laila Ali:  Think About Your Eyes is like I said, I'm excited to partner with them because we're encouraging families to schedule annual comprehensive eye exams, and that's what really it's all about. Did I tell you already that I started wearing glasses at the age of 11?

Michelle Tompkins:  No, you did not.

Laila Ali:  I started wearing glasses at 11. And my mum realized I needed glasses when my teacher told her I was squinting in class and having trouble reading and moved me towards the front. And until then, she didn't realize because she had been relying on school exams and when I went to the doctor. And those aren't the same as the actual annual comprehensive eye exam.

What we've learned is that's really what a lot of people do. I mean I did it with my child. Sydney was five when she started squinting in class. And I said ‘You know what? I think Sidney needs glasses’. And I took her to get her eyes examined the proper way, a comprehensive eye exam.

We're trying to avoid that happening to others. And to also remind people that if they are going to get their eyes checked and are already wearing glasses that you got to do routine checkups every year because our eyes are continually changing. I started wearing glasses young like I mentioned and through adulthood. And then when I started boxing, I got my eyes corrected because I couldn't wear contacts in the ring, obviously. And 15 years plus later, I started having vision problems again. And now I'm wearing contacts again. So go figure. My eyes changed again and I'm back in contacts after all those years. So just trying to make sure that people are aware.

Summer is a great time to start getting exams and just do it annually because our schedules are a little open and our kids don't have to necessarily miss school to go get their eyes examed. And people can go to to find a doctor in their area and schedule their exam.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now charitable endeavors have always been important to your family. Are there any charitable activities that you'd like to mention?

Laila Ali:  Well, I am always involved in charitable activities even when I'm not public about it. But I would say some of the organizations that I like to support are the Women Sports Foundation, which helps keep girls strong through sport and physical activity and also uphold title nine.  I was the past president of that organization. I also like Peace for Kids which is a local organization for kids in foster care that I do a lot of work with. Feeding America is another big one I'm a strong supporter of. Just looking at food and security issues that we have right here in our own country. Those are just to name a few.

Michelle Tompkins:  What do you like to do for fun?

Laila Ali: I like to spend time with my family, travel when we're able to when our schedule permits. We try to really— I love going to warm islands to have fun. I like taking my kids roller skating. I get out there and I skate as well. Cooking for me is actually fun. I want to have time to just put on my music, dance and have a good time in the kitchen, which is really easy for me to do and just hanging out with my friends, just scheduling time to go get a manicure or pedicure together, got to lunch, really the simple things in life. I don't need to do a whole lot, just having downtime and being around the people that I love is what I enjoy most.

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you have any beauty or health tips that you'd like to share with people?

Laila Ali:  Beauty and health tips, definitely-- people ask me all the time about my skin and I think that one of the reasons that I've been able to keep my skin in great condition is because number one, I live a healthy lifestyle as far as what I eat. I don't smoke. I actually don't even drink, but even if you do do those things, I think getting-- sweating is great, getting toxins out of your body, drinking a lot of water and making sure that you clean your face. I like to do it in the shower when my pores are open, and I like to use a tool like a Clarisonic to really clean and it keeps my pores tight as well.

Laila Ali talks about her dad, Muhammad Ali

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, would you mind sharing with us one of your favorite memories with your dad?

Laila Ali:  I would say one of my favorite memories, there's so many, but having my dad to my home for the first time for Thanksgiving when I actually prepared the meal and he really got to see how well I could actually cook with the whole spread in front of him. And I remember how wide his eyes opened that day, and he was so surprised. ‘Man, you cooked all of this?’ And he just couldn't believe it. So [laughter] he kept joking, acting like there was a chef in the kitchen. I really made me feel good as his daughter and food to gloves and I told him I cooked it. That was really one of the most special days of my life I would say with my father. But of course there's so many memories and we miss him dearly, but I have comfort in knowing that he's in a better place now and not pained.


A post shared by Laila Ali (@thereallailaali) on

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, I think Billy Crystal's eulogy of your dad was one of the best-delivered speeches I've ever seen. I love the line that he said, ‘He made all of our lives a little better than they were.’ And I was curious about how your family felt after all the wonderful tributes and outpourings of love despite it being such a sad and hard time.

Laila Ali:  I have been fortunate to witness the love from my father over the years. It was a very surreal moment obviously because it was just so much going on, so many people there. It was very overwhelming for my kids because they knew who their grandfather was but they didn't really realize at the young of age how great he was but to have to do the processional, drive through the streets and for miles and miles and miles and having people on the streets waving, and it was really overwhelming because for me I was really thinking about protecting them.

I would say we appreciate it, and I know my dad told me when I was young and it's always reminded us, it was funny how famous he was. He used to say, ‘I can go anywhere in the world and people recognize me. I can go anywhere in the world [laughter].’ He used to tell us that from a young age, and it was so true and so consistent throughout my life.

I'm just truly inspired and prideful to have that same blood running through my veins and the reason why he's so famous and loved. He was such a great person, a great man, a great athlete, wonderful father, and I'm like I said, I'm just happy to have had-- come into this earth and having him as a dad.

Michelle Tompkins:  How do you like your fans to connect with you?

Laila Ali:  They connect with me all sorts of ways because I think social media is a great tool. I mean, can you imagine if there was social media when my dad was young and in his prime?

Michelle Tompkins: He'd be the favorite of many people.

Laila Ali:  Social media. Oh, my God, he would have so many followers. But I think that definitely, I look at the comments even though you can't answer all of them. And I do answer sometimes, but I do I like to see what's on people's minds. I like to see what they like, what they don't like, what they want to see more of from me. I get tons of emails. I get tons of fan mail. So I think people feel that they can connect to me, and I like it that way. So, yeah, they can definitely reach out to my website I have the contact information there, and I appreciate the fans, and I love when they show love.

Michelle Tompkins:  What are your social media handles?

Laila Ali:  I'm the real Laila Ali on Instagram, and I also have, obviously, my Facebook page and then my website, which is also a blog where I put out content on health and wellness.

Michelle Tompkins:  What's next for you?

Laila Ali:  I'm going to continue hosting the show, keep going down the lane of being the food space. I just came out with my book in January. So that's kind of new. I do a lot of speaking around the country on a regular basis, and like I mentioned, my nutrition product is going to be coming out soon so that's what I'm working on. So I pretty much have my hands full just with the partnerships and the think about your eyes and other things that I do. It's all in the same vein of just encouraging people to be the best that they can be in life.

Laila Ali

Laila Ali can be found here and to find an eye doctor near you visit Think About Your Eyes here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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