Claressa Shields: Flint Michigan’s New Hope for the 2016 Olympics

Shields Made HERstory as the first American Boxer to Win Two Gold Medals

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“Respect me as being a woman, respect me as being black, respect me as being an athlete who represented the United States.”

She was just 17 years old when she got her first gold medal. She was 17, black and from a low-income neighborhood in Flint, Michigan.

She was the underdog who never let any obstacles define her. Yet the world refuses recognize her greatness.

Claressa Shields’ unyielding certainty granted her the opportunity of a lifetime – Shields became the first American woman to take home Olympic gold in boxing. Now, she aims to prove herself once again in Rio de Janeiro.

Shields got her start in boxing at a young age. Her father Bo inspired her — he’d competed in underground matches and told her stories about Laila Ali. Even though her father believed it was a man’s sport, he finally allowed her to compete when she was 11, two years after he got out of prison.

It’s clear that Shields’ story is fuel for her fire. She wants to prove something, she wants to make a name for herself, she wants to do better for her family. In this clip from T-Rex: Her Fight For Gold, the 2015 documentary chronicling her athletic journey, she described her struggles even after coming home an Olympic hero.

“I gotta be able to take care of my family, I gotta have enough money,” Shields says in the documentary. “They think just because I won a gold medal that I’m rich. I’m not rich.”

T-Rex chronicles her family’s struggles, which seem at odds with the fame and honor she earned just four years ago. Though she says she gets 30 to 40 calls a day from interested parties, Shields doesn’t have sponsorship deals lining up at her door. At one point in the documentary, her mother has Shields pay for their water bill. In another, Shields’ sister talks about how Claressa’s success is the family’s ticket out of “this hellhole,” as she puts it.

So, the pressure to succeed is on. Shields doesn’t just do it for the money, for security–she wants to finally earn the honor and recognition she deserves. But the documentary implies that her tough, cool demeanor and confidence scare potential sponsors away.

Whether it’s her background, race, gender, or a combination of these factors, one thing is clear: something’s not adding up. Despite years of training and accomplishments, she’s left feeling like she has something to prove to the world.

She closes out the clip with a call for recognition:

“Respect me as being a woman, respect me as being black, respect me as being an athlete who represented the United States.”

Claressa Shields became the first American boxer to win two gold medals at the Olympics, defeating Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands 3-0 in the women’s middleweight 75-kilogram division.

Afterward, an exuberant Shields was asked what statement she hoped to make by coming back and winning gold yet again at the Rio Olympics. The 21-year-old paused a moment, then replied:

“I wanted to let it be known that I’m not just a great female boxer, but I’m one of the great boxers to ever live,” Shields said. “I’m the first American to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist.”

 

 


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