London is a far cry from Flint, the small industrial city 75 miles north of Detroit. One of the country’s most impoverished, violent, and blighted cities, Flint has fully embraced Shields as a champion and a hero.
She is a daily sight at Berston, where she has trained with her coach and guardian Jason Crutchfield since she was 11. The building is covered with signs and pictures of Claressa, which admittedly makes her uncomfortable. “It shouldn’t be just about me,” she said, pointing to pictures of other boxers who train at the gym.
She’s at home in the gym, speaking with friends, playing basketball in the gym, cracking jokes with others, and texting and tweeting from her cell phone like an average teenager. She credits much of her success to Crutchfield, who took her into his home three years ago and has become her surrogate father.
Shields had lived in six different homes prior to being taken in by Crutchfield. Bo Shields has spent most of her life in and out of prison while her older brother, Artis, is currently incarcerated.
“He treats me like I’m his daughter,” Shields said of Crutchfield. “He feeds me, takes care of, lectures me; does everything that a dad does. Our best relationship is down here in the gym.
“I think if we didn’t have a good relationship in the gym, we wouldn’t have a good relationship outside of it,” she added. “Back at home, he’s on me about my schoolwork, tells me who I can and cannot talk to in terms of boys, giving me a curfew. All of that is to help keep me focused on boxing.”
Crutchfield monitors her closely and constantly keeps her focused on boxing. He also manages her business transactions. He treats her no differently than his other children, making her do chores and not allowing her to date.
“She would fly off the handle a little when she was younger,” Crutchfield said. “She had a bit of a temper on her. I watched her mature and just made sure I was there for her. And now, look at her. She’s mild-mannered and mellowed out.”
Crutchfield traveled to London with Claressa. However, unlike professional boxing, he was not allowed to work in her corner and had to watch all of her fights from the stands. The two often stayed in contact via Skype and phone conversations during the Olympics.
“I just had to keep myself focused,” Shields said. “Normally, I’ve got my coach and I had to make sure I had to make myself feel as good as possible. My coach tells me what to eat and what not to eat, and I had to do all that stuff on my own. At least he was a phone call away and he was still there.”
Shields has already started getting calls from companies trying to sign her to endorsement deals. Amateur boxers, unlike college athletes in the United States, can sign endorsement deals and not lose their amateur status. Adidas, as well as a local Chevrolet dealership and a few other companies have already approached Shields.
Oscar de la Hoya – a 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist – as well as Floyd Mayweather and Bob Arum, have also approached her about fighting professionally. Shields, who will be a senior at Flint Northwestern High School this year, is leaning toward staying amateur and fighting in the 2016 Olympics before turning pro.
After graduation, Shields plans on attending college and majoring in photojournalism. She’s currently undecided on what school she will attend, but is leaning toward either Michigan State University or staying in Flint for a year at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.
“Either I could go after the money now because I’m in high demand, or I can stay amateur and get endorsements and then I’ll still be living OK,” Shields said. “I just want to be able to help my family, but I don’t think going pro right now will do it. When I’m 21 [in 2016], there won’t even be a question.”
The one thing that Shields cares most about is taking care of her mother and her two younger siblings. She especially fears her 14-year-old brother, Dusable, falling in with the wrong crowd in Flint and wants to make sure that they do not have to deal with the troubles of the streets.
“My little brother likes to draw – he’s left-handed and he’s weird – and he likes to make stuff with his hands,” Shields said. “I’m just looking out for him.”
“My little brother is why I want to get out of Flint,” she added. “Young boys get killed here, no matter what age. Even though he’s not a bad kid, you can still run into trouble hanging around the wrong people.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith