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Muhammad Ali Center’s “Stories of Ali: Deer Lake Training Camp in Pennsylvania” Free Public Forum to Highlight Muhammad Ali’s Training Camp Then and Now

Interviewees include Mike Madden, son of legendary football coach John Madden; and Deer Lake photographers Jeff Julian and Sonia Katchian 

The Muhammad Ali Center’s next “Stories of Ali” lecture program, “Deer Lake Training Camp in Pennsylvania,” will focus on the training camp Muhammad Ali owned and trained at from 1972 to 1980.  The discussion will revolve around firsthand stories about Muhammad’s time there, historical information about the Camp, the celebrities who visited, and how Deer Lake has been revitalized and re-opened as a destination where individuals can learn about Muhammad Ali’s legacy. The free program will be on Sunday, October 13th from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Ali Center.

About Deer Lake Training Camp:

Deer Lake Training Camp, also known as ‘Fighter’s Heaven’, was purchased by Muhammad Ali in 1972. This was the site at which he trained for several of his most famous fights, including bouts against George Foreman, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Ernie Shavers, Joe Frazier (Fight III), and Larry Holmes. The Camp had many famous visitors during that time, including Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol, and many more who found refuge in the Training Camp’s cabins and serene surroundings.  Fighter’s Heaven is located in the Appalachian Mountains (specifically Blue Mountain), approximately 85-90 miles from Philadelphia. It is made up of 18 cabins and 6 acres.  The new owner, Mike Madden, purchased the property in 2016 after Ali passed away, and has since been working to restore it back to its original glory, and has re-opened it for group tours and other educational field trips.

The three “Stories of Ali: Deer Lake Training Camp in Pennsylvania” interviewees are:

Mr. Mike Madden is the oldest son of the legendary John Madden, former Raiders coach and football announcer. Mike resides in Pleasanton, California with his fiancé, Susie, and his two high school aged sons. Mike used to refer to himself as a “real estate developer,” but since he hasn’t developed anything in almost 20 years, now claims the title, “property manager.” A current project is the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s Training Camp in Deer Lake, PA. For the past 25 years, Mike served as the freshman football coach at his alma mater Foothill High. With football coaching now behind him, he is looking forward to finally being able to play the right amount of golf. Mike graduated from Harvard in 1987 with a degree in English.

Mr. Jeff Julian is a photographer whose boxing related photographs have been published in various books, magazines, newspapers and websites. His photos have been used in several documentaries and are included in the collection of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He worked closely with the Muhammad Ali Center during its infancy (2003-2004), designing and producing an inaugural poster, as well as a set of limited edition prints signed by Ali. These projects helped promote awareness and raise funds for the Ali Center. Mr. Julian has been working closely with Mr. Madden, doing research, acquiring items for display, and photographing the historic siteʼs extensive restoration.

I was fortunate to have photographed Muhammad Ali quite a few times over the years. I first met and photographed him at his Deer Lake training camp in 1978. I spent a lot of time there and saw firsthand how he interacted with people from all walks of life. I witnessed the genuine kindness he showed the many fans who flocked there to watch him train, and I gained a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for him as a person. The training camp, which Ali called “Fighter’s Heaven”, was a very special place to Ali. It was his creation – he decided exactly what was to be built and where. It was a labor of love, and he was quite proud of the camp he built.” – Jeff Julian

Ms. Sonia Katchian, former freelance photographer for Sports Illustrated, Time and Life, Sonia met Muhammad Ali at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.  He wrote down his phone number to the Deer Lake training camp, and “the rest is history.” Sonia Katchian photographed Muhammad Ali at Deer Lake and at major fights around the world, including Zaïre, Manila, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, to name a few.  Sonia is currently based in North Carolina, but her photo career began in New York City. While covering a political rally in 1972 in Laurel, Maryland, Sonia happened to capture on film George C. Wallace, moments after he had been shot; her photo was subsequently used by LIFE magazine in a full-page display. Other highlights of Sonia’s career include: teaching photography at the Women’s Interart Center, encouraging other women to enter the field; and becoming a founding member of the Soho Photo Gallery. She was also the first woman staff photographer at The New York Post and she co-authored Women See Woman, published in 1975 by Harper & Row. Sonia also initiated the creation of Photo Shuttle Japan.

Her photos have been published in Sports Illustrated, Time, The New York Times, Sport Magazine, among many others. Her photos of Ali are in museums and private collections around the world and part of a traveling exhibition and an exclusive folio of prints, The ALI Folio, at

“Ali was a “saint” of sorts to all of us. The closer you got to Ali, the more you felt that all’s right with the world. That went for sports writers, reporters, cynics, clerics, poets, politicians, men and women … all of us.” – Sonia Katchian

The Muhammad Ali Center’s Oral History Project is an ongoing initiative created to utilize the practice of oral history to document the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali. Deer Lake is the fourth program in the series. More information about the project is available here.