Interview: Olympic Boxer Claressa Shields Shows Us What It Means to Be a Champion
Even over the phone, Claressa Shields’ passion is infectious. When we spoke last month in support of the documentary T-Rex, which chronicles the then 17-year-old’s journey to gold at the 2012 London Olympics, it became clear that Olympic victory is only a small part of Claressa’s quest for domination.
When I asked how she felt about next month’s Rio games, where there’s a good chance the Flint, Michigan-born fighter will become the first U.S. boxer in the male or female division to ever win back-to-back Olympic gold medals, Claressa laughed and told me she’s exited to see what the other women bring to the ring. She’s thrilled by her own career and the opportunities that have finally come her way—including an upcoming feature film from Universal based on her life story—but seems even more thrilled about the future of the sport she loves, and the chance she has to positively impact up-and-coming female boxers.
It took a long time for the sports world to recognize Claressa’s excellence. Although she made history at the 2012 games as the first American woman to win a gold medal for boxing, she wasn’t offered sponsorship opportunities following her landmark victory. At the time, a USA Boxing spokesperson told Claressa she needed to improve her image and “stop saying that you love beating people up and making them cry,” to which Claressa replied, “Why? I box.”
Years later, boxing is still seen by many as a man’s sport, and America still seems unsure how to market female boxers who are uninterested in pandering to traditional ideas of how a woman should behave, but Claressa has finally begun to get some of the attention her skills deserve. Hopefully, her long road to success will pave the way for other female boxers.
You can check out my conversation with the boxer below, as well as a trailer for T-Rex.
The Mary Sue: What does being from Flint mean to you personally?
Claressa Shields: To me, being from Flint means that you can make it anywhere. I mean, I’m not uncomfortable around any kind of people. I’m comfortable no matter who I’m around or what kind of people I’m around because I’ve dealt with all kinds of different people in Flint Michigan.
TMS: How has your life changed since the 2012 games?
Shields: Since the 2012 games, I just got some endorsements last year, 2015, and I’m now endorsed by Powerade, I’m endorsed by Dicks Sporting Goods, I’ve got sponsorships through the Universal Kidney Foundation, and I’m an ambassador for the Up2Us Club. A lot has changed, you know, I have a different coach now, I no longer live in Flint, I’ve been living in Colorado Springs over the past year. I haven’t lost a fight since the fight I lost in the film, which was four years ago. As of right now, I’m a two-time world champion with an Olympic gold medal and I’m going to my second Olympics.
TMS: And you’re only 21 right?
Shields: Yeah, only 21.
TMS: What motivates you to achieve all that and to keep working so incredibly hard?
Shields: It’s because the goal hasn’t been met yet. The goal is to go down in history as the best woman fighter to ever live. That’s my goal. So even with everything that I’ve accomplished, it’s still like there’s so much more that needs to be done. So every time I accomplish something, it’s like I get a little but closer, but I’m still not there. I still haven’t fought on HBO, I still haven’t fought on Showtime, all these things that I want to do. And I want to bring the attention to women’s boxing that we deserve.
TMS: Your ultimate goal would be to bring more attention to women’s boxing?
Shields: Yeah, and make it easier for those coming up behind me, so the women coming up behind me can have it easier, to where they can actually make millions of dollars boxing and fight on TV.
TMS: Do you have any advice for young girls coming up as boxers now?
Shields: The advice that I have for everybody is to, one, not to be afraid to be different. Everybody’s not going to like what you doing. And then two, whatever you decide to do, put your foot 100% forward. You don’t need to give it 80%, or give it 70%, just because you’re getting by. If you can get 100% on a test, then why do you want to settle for 90% when you know you can get 100%? Just put 100% into whatever you’re doing, and it will work out for you. Put all your time and effort towards it and it should work out, I believe.
TMS: How are you feeling about the Olympics this summer?
Shields: I feel great, you know! I actually look back and think about four years ago after I won the gold and when I started this quest onto my second Olympic goal medal. Two, two and a half years ago, everybody just kept saying ‘it’s going to be harder than it was the first time,’ and I was thinking like ‘dang, it is, it’s going to be harder.’ And then I get in the gym and I start training and I dominate everybody, and it’s like, ‘I thought they said it was going to be harder!’ But for me, I think my quest for another Olympic gold medal has been so easy because I’ve been training so hard and I’ve been absolutely focused. I think maybe if I wasn’t absolutely focused that maybe it would be harder, but every tournament I’ve fought in I’ve dominated. It’s simple.
TMS: So you’re feeling pretty good.
Shields: I feel great. I’m just so ready for these girls to bring their A-plus game to the Olympics. I want to see everybody’s best and I want to see if their best can compete with my best, and I doubt it. I really do doubt it. But it’s going to be great to see and experience.
TMS: If there’s one thing you want audiences to take away from this documentary, what would that be?
Shelds: For viewers who watch the documentary, I want them to walk away knowing it doesn’t matter where you come from, who your parents were, how they were and all the mistakes that they made, that you shouldn’t let it affect your life. Just because your mom went to prison, your dad went to prison, your dad did drugs or anything like that, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the same way. For my documentary, I want them to walk away knowing make the choices for your own life, do whatever you want to do, put your full foot forward in it, and it should work out for you. Don’t let how your parent’s life went control how your life goes. You can do it, no matter where you’re from. You can be from Flint Michigan, from Detroit, from Tennessee, from anywhere. You can do it.
T-Rex is available to stream on Vimeo now, and will come to Netflix later this summer. Claressa will be going for her second gold at the Rio Olympics this August.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
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