Four-time undefeated boxing world champion, TV host, cooking enthusiast, business woman, mom and wife are only a few words that could describe the multifaceted and highly accomplished Laila Ali.
Ali, 39, grew up in the spotlight of her world-famous father, boxer Muhammad Ali, but it’s her own both personal and professional accomplishments that earned her a spotlight all her own.
With the lessons learned and strong sense of self she’s developed along the way, Ali has teamed up with T.J.Maxx’s Maxx You Project, to help women better understand, “what makes you, you?” and to embrace their individuality. Through the project’s efforts, she shared with BRIDES a bit of insight into her decade-long marriage, advice for brides-to-be, and more.
Ali and her husband, retired-NFL player Curtis Conway recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary, having married on July 22, 2007. When asked about the big day, Ali reflected, “Wedding days are always very stressful. Looking back, you wish you were more focused on the moment, your focused on making sure everyone else is ok — at least I was.” Regardless, she recalls it as a beautiful day. “I had my two best friends there my sister, my bridesmaid, everything turned out beautifully the way I had wanted.”
She even had a special surprise for Conway, “I wanted to embarrass him and I did, so I sang to him. He was super surprised and turned pink, so it was fun.”
Another highlight? Her ballroom performance, or lack thereof. “It was right after I had done ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and I remember him being very nervous [since] I had just went on the finals.” But contrary to what guests may have expected, she said, “we didn’t practice at all, we were going to do a regular ole dance. I remember saying, ‘Don’t put pressure on my baby!’ This is just our moment.”
She laughed, “Everyone was waiting for us to cut a rug on the ballroom floor and we didn’t – we were in our own little world slow dancing.”
Through ten busy years, the couple celebrated their milestone anniversary last July with a staycation. “We stayed at The Montage not too far from where we live and we relaxed,” recalling it’s a special place to them as, “we had gone there when I thought he was going to propose to me and he didn’t, it was the funniest thing.”
In fact, after having specifically requested a more private proposal because, “I’m kind of shy and private,” her husband popped the question over Thanksgiving dinner with family.
So how exactly does a busy mom of two, wife, business woman, athlete, television host (and the list goes on) manage such a busy schedule and a happy marriage?
Ali admits it’s not easy. “It’s really about putting priorities in order and it’s not easy to do. It’s always a challenge and I think it always will be.”
For her, her children come first, and everything else comes, “pretty much second.” In fact, she admits, “I had to learn to say no to a lot of thing without feeling bad over the years. Priorities and boundaries.”
Ali stressed the importance of empowerment and truly knowing yourself as a person, while reflecting upon her first marriage. “I got married very young to my first husband, and divorced. I don’t think I needed to get married to do that, but I think you learn in any experience in life, good or bad.”
Ali encourages women to get to know themselves before getting married. “You grow and change and you can outgrow someone,” she says. “Sometimes you don’t know enough about yourself. Marriage is such a big responsibility, it’s a lot of work,” adding, that the addition of children is then an entirely new phase altogether.
Regardless of lessons learned and past experiences, Ali shared that she loves being married “I was never one of those people who got a divorce and was bitter, I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’m gonna get married again.’”
As far as #marriagegoals go, growing up Ali looked to the stars, citing popular television sitcom characters and their marriages as ones that she looked up to. In regard to real-life aspirations, “I never grew up wanting the type of relationship that my parents had, and I don’t.”
Exploring the contrasts, Ali shared that with Conway retired from the NFL prior to their union, “His schedule is much lighter than mine. I am the busier of the two of us, and we balance each other well. I made sure I got with a guy who was okay with that, and who was a really good, hands on dad.”
Their different schedules and her husband’s hardworking attitude helps make it all work. “Curtis can get the kids up, do my daughters’ hair, pack their lunches, iron their school clothes, you now come home, cook dinner, get the homework done and get them to bed – he can do it all.”
In sharing advice for future brides-to-be, Ali stressed just how important communication is. “Keep the lines of communication open. We hear that all the time but it’s really important that whenever you have something to say, that you feel a certain way, that you share it and don’t let it fester.”
She also advises to, “Make sure you have someone that, as you change and you grow and you start a family, that it’s the right person for all of those things,” stressing the importance of sharing the same goals and values and finding a person whose characteristics are consistent with what they say they want.
Ali reflected how much women change through the stages and seasons of their lives. “From the time I got married at 22 to my second marriage, I changed so much and every version of myself was fine” she says. “You have to recognize that you are going to change so much and embrace those versions of yourself.”
Through her partnership with The Maxx You Project Ali continues to share her unique experience and perspectives helping women to uncover both who they are, and who they can be.