Fighting for Her Dream
Boxing changed Claressa’s life. Now this powerful teen aims to make history at the 2012 Summer Olympics
“Jab and pop, pop pop pop,” Claressa Shields said to herself as she warmed up. “Jab right hand. It’s about to go down.”
Claressa was getting ready for a fight. The date was February 18, 2012. She had boxed many times before. But this time, the stakes were higher than ever. If she won this fight, Claressa would win a spot on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Boxing Team.
The fight was grueling. Claressa was up against a two-time U.S. champion. “Her whole game plan was to hold me against the ropes so I wouldn’t hit her,” says Claressa.
Claressa didn’t give up. She won the fight. And that wasn’t all. She also won the title of outstanding fighter for the whole tournament!
HER RIGHT TO FIGHT
Claressa, now 17, started boxing when she was just 11. She was inspired by her dad. He had been a fighter when he was younger. But when she first told her dad that she wanted to box, he didn’t support her.
“He told me, ‘No! No! Boxing is a man’s sport,’ ” Claressa remembers. “It made me so mad.”
Claressa wouldn’t back down. “I wanted to fight. I knew that whatever I put my heart and my work into, I was going to be successful at it,” she says.
Finally, her dad took her to the boxing gym to start training. She was the only girl. “Everybody was looking at me,” she says.
Claressa didn’t worry about fitting in. She just put on her gear and did her best. Claressa now has a boxing record of 23 wins and zero losses. “I think you’re awesome,” her dad told her not long ago. He’s proud that she proved him wrong.
“I’m still proving people wrong,” says Claressa.
CHANGING HER LIFE
Claressa has faced many challenges outside the boxing ring. Her dad was in jail from the time that she was 2 until she was 9. Her mom “has her own problems,” says Claressa. As a result, Claressa has moved several times. Right now, she lives with her aunt and sleeps on the couch.
“Before boxing, my goal was to have 10 kids before I was 26,” Claressa recalls. Now, she spends every day training. “My goals changed completely,” she says.
Flint, Michigan, is Claressa’s hometown. The city has many problems. There are not enough jobs, and there is lots of crime.
“I see all these people who are on drugs, or they act wild,” says Claressa. “It just makes me work harder. I want to be something.”
Boxing can be dangerous. How does Claressa feel when she steps into the ring? “I’m not nervous,” she says. “I’m determined and calm.” She knows it’s important to stay confident. “I’ve never gotten into the ring thinking that a girl can beat me,” she adds.
But Claressa takes the competition seriously. “I always tell myself it’s going to be harder than I think,” she says. “I fight them all like they are world champions. If I think it’s going to be easy, I’m done!”
Claressa will need all her confidence this month. From May 9 to May 20, she will be in China. There, she’ll fight in the Women’s World Boxing Championships.
Claressa must place in the top eight in her weight class out of all the female boxers in the world. Otherwise she can’t go to the Olympics, even though she’s on the U.S. Olympic team.
We asked Claressa to imagine stepping into the ring at the Olympics. Would it feel any different from her other fights? “No,” she says. “Just a fight. Just another girl in my way.”