Claressa Shields' Past Makes Her Present Amazing
It's rare that coverage of an Olympic gold medalist crosses paths with a place as turbulent as Flint, Michigan. It's rarer still that that same Olympian becomes something of a spokesperson for a group as serious as sexual abuse and rape survivors. But Claressa Shields, the first American woman to win gold in boxing, isn't your average Olympic gold medalist. In fact, it's Shields' unique story and Flint roots that make her the toughest and most inspirational individual in boxing, as well as an important voice for abuse survivors.
In a touching profile from Yahoo! Sports last year, Shields revealed a history of continued sexual abuse and poverty — a history she waited to reveal in full until then. When she began taking care of her cousin's daughter, Klaressa, though, she decided to speak out on the abuse she suffered to offer a means of support for others who are going through what she experienced, she told Yahoo. And though a series of disagreements ultimately caused the adoption contract to fall through after eight months, Claressa recounted in an interview with USA Today, she was incredibly happy with the baby.
Considered one of boxing's rising stars after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics in London at a mere 17 years old, Shields found herself back in Flint, the impoverished Michigan city that's made headlines for nearly two years due to its tainted water and the controversy surrounding its government officials. By sharing her story with the world — the economic hardship, the abuse, and the hope all rolled into one middleweight boxer — and returning to the Olympics to defend her title, Shields has proven that she is one of the most extraordinary athletes to ever grace the Olympic podium.
Shields' story isn't just unique because of the hardships she's faced: in some other countries competing at the Olympics, the state sponsors potential Olympians and also helps them with funding for their training. Rather, she's unique because she's an African American woman who not only managed to rise to the world's most prestigious boxing ring, but also because she's been open about her struggles before and after her first Olympic win.
It's important to remember the real story behind the modest-yet-confident champion: that she is more than a sum of what she's been through and those who have helped her, and that she proves this every time she speaks about her tumultuous childhood or about her hometown of Flint. She is a force to be reckoned with inside and outside of the ring, and should not be reduced to a rags-to-riches story.
If Shields wins gold on Aug. 17, she will be the first American boxer to win back-to-back golds at the Olympics. Shields' story is unabashedly American in its grit and glory, and her rise to fame is a testament to the wonders and pitfalls of the American dream.