By Chevas D. Samuels
Photography by Inspirational Light Enterprises
Cover by Tisha Brenee’
Hair by Tonya Smith
Makeup by Nika Brown
Claressa Shields should become acquainted with hearing the word ‘first’ whenever her name is mentioned. After all, Shields is the first American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games last summer, the first games to offer a woman’s boxing competition as well as the youngest boxer at the Olympic Games. I sat down recently with Shields and we talked about her life, career and future.
I only had one thing on my mind; winning the gold medal. I’d gone too far and worked too hard. I was not going to lose.
What obstacles were the hardest for you when you decided you wanted to box?
The hardest part came after I’d been training for a while. I’d go to the matches and I would see everybody else get a boxing match and I couldn’t get one. It was hard on me at first. I trained so hard. I also had personal issues to deal with. I lived in the projects for a minute and there wasn’t a whole lot of food to eat sometimes. I had anger issues growing up. I went to anger management classes and that was really hard at the beginning. It (anger) even affected my boxing at first. My attitude was all wrong. Whenever someone beat me at the gym or got me with a good punch, I couldn’t let it go and I’d stay mad about it for days, so the next time I got into the ring, I’d still be mad thinking about what happened the last time. I had to learn how to control my attitude and my anger and focus. Boxing actually helped me too. As far as my attitude, it takes a lot more for me to get angry now, whereas maybe two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Boxing has taught me discipline, patience and respect for others. Boxing requires a certain mindset and that’s what I had to do to become a great boxer and now, that’s who I am in and out of the gym.
You live in Flint, MI, a city known for violence. Did that make it harder to focus on training?
As far as the violence, I was always surrounded at the gym and away from it. There were also people who always pushed me to try harder. They would say “Good luck champ” or “Good job champ.” When I get a chance to speak at schools, I always tell the students that violence is not the way out, stop the violence and stay in school and I tell them how I used my life and the things I went through to make it to where I am now.
What were the stereotypes you faced as your name and popularity grew?
Oh wow. That I was gay and that I wanted to be a man, but there’s one stereotype that many other women in boxing faced that I haven’t; that I [women] can’t box. Nobody has ever told me that.
What is the one thing your trainer tells you that keeps you focused?
That I have to prove that I’m above and beyond all the girls who want to be in the ring now and in the future. He tells me that now instead of just getting into the ring and winning, he says I need to stop that girl from competing, even the top ranked ones.
Olympic critics predicted you medaling at Bronze. How did you feel about being counted out as a contender for the gold?
Laughs. Who said that? Laughs again. Actually, I’d been hearing that. All I could think about was how these people were underestimating me. I couldn’t wait to prove them wrong. I only had one thing on my mind; winning the gold medal. I’d gone too far and worked too hard. I was not going to lose. No. I had a huge reputation going into the Olympics as being flashy and a power hitter, they probably thought, well, I don’t know what they thought.
Talk about the moment you stepped off the plane in London.
You know, I only remember arriving to the Olympic village. It still felt like I was in the USA, but it hit me that I was really in London once I saw Kevin Durant. Laughs. That’s when I realized, “Oh my God! I’m really here!” Laughs. Then it all clicked and I thought, “Okay, this is serious! This is the Olympics and you can lose here.”
Tell me about meeting the royal family of boxing, Muhammad and Laila Ali.
Muhammad Ali didn’t say much, but it’s great that he’s still making appearances and he’s still being honored for what he did, not just in boxing, but for the black community. I feel that he deserves a lot more. Laila is down to Earth; she’s about her business and very classy. She’s pretty, but she can fight too. She was cracking jokes on Twitter about us fighting each other. I thought it was pretty funny.
What message do you want to send to other young girls who want to be successful in male dominated sports?
First things first, you can’t be afraid or worry about what other people will say or think, but they need to know that being in a gym and training with men means they have to train two times harder than they do. My coach always told me when I was in the gym and a man was working harder, he’d say “You gonna let that boy outdo you?”
You’re graduating soon. Are excited about that?
Yes. I’m very excited!
Are you going to your prom?
Yes, I’m going to my prom.
We’re picking out colleges right now. We haven’t made any decisions yet, we’re still looking.
Will we see you at the 2016 Olympic Games?
Oh, we have no idea right now. Whatever I choose; if I go pro or stay amateur and go to the next Olympics, I’ll be successful at it.
Claressa Shields is a determined young lady with the matched confidence of a seasoned pro boxer. She has an excellent future ahead and inspires hundreds of other girls like her to rise above circumstance and make the good things happen. Now that is what I call courageous.