Red bike marks spot where Ali learned to box

Red bike marks spot where Ali learned to box
Published: Jun. 7, 2016 at 8:29 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2016 at 8:51 PM EDT
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(Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – It all started with a red bicycle.

Over the years, the story has been told about how a 12-year-old Muhammad Ali met boxing coach Joe Martin at the Columbia Gym after his beloved bike was stolen.

That site is now part of Spalding University. The school put up a similar red bike at the University Center as a memorial.

"As a matter of fact, it all started right here," Spalding University President Tori Murden McClure said.

It's hard to wrap your mind around the story of a champion.

For a young Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay at the time, it all comes back to the 300 block of Fourth Street in the mid-1950s. McClure said Ali hopped off his red bike to check out a nearby home show.

"He and a friend came over and they were cruising through for hotdogs and popcorn I'm sure, and while he was here, someone stole his bicycle and he was saying, 'I'm going to whoop somebody' and he was crying and they said well there's a police officer downstairs, you can go talk to him," McClure said.

That's how Ali met Joe Martin, a cop during the day and a boxing coach at night, at the Columbia gym.

"Joe Martin said if you are going to beat somebody up, maybe you need to learn how to box," McClure said.

McClure worked alongside Muhammad and Lonnie Ali as the first full time employee of the Muhammad Ali Center. In Ali's high school years, he worked across the street at the Nazareth College Library, which is now Spalding University.

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"Muhammad went to Central High School and he started working in the library about the same time he started at Central, so he would run over literally after school, left there about 2 p.m., got here a little after would work in the library until dinner time, eat a quick dinner and come over and train in the Columbia gym until it was time to go to bed," McClure said.

Spalding eventually took over the building that was home to the Columbia Gym. A red bicycle now hangs high above as a memorial.

"Muhammad just shows you that you can't take shortcuts and you've got to do what you've got to do to become the best," Spalding University student Aaron Mitchell said.

In the basement, student athletes now sweat it out where The Greatest once did.

"I remember seeing a picture of him in a stairwell here actually and it was pretty cool seeing how, Muhammad Ali's been here," Mitchell said. "You can come in here every day get a little workout in or just hang out and be in the presence where a legend used to be, it's pretty cool."

A tribute to his legacy and a reminder of how it all began.

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