theGrio's 100: Claressa Shields, Olympic boxing's 'first lady'

african kings

Who is Claressa Shields?

Olympians like Claressa Shields have a special place in the hearts and minds of sports fans all over the world. After the London Games, Shields also has a place in the history books. The 17-year-old boxer and Flint, Michigan native earned a gold medal in London in the middleweight division.

London marked the first time in Olympic history women were competing in boxing and Shields was the only U.S. boxer to earn a gold medal. (no U.S. men medaled)

Shields began boxing at age 11 and has been inspiring her hometown of Flint ever since.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

Competing in the boxing ring seems marginal when compared to the struggles Shields has faced outside of the gym.

Her father, Clarence, who first introduced her to the sport, has spent much of Shields life serving prison time. Her older brother is currently incarcerated. Shields had to grow up fast and boxing was her saving grace.

Her gold medal achievement in London meant more than just individual glory or representing her country – it was an opportunity to put the sport of women’s boxing on the map for good.

Shields told the Detroit Free-Press:

“I really wanted to represent the women now,” she said. “I think I did a great job. I think I showed the best display of women’s boxing. I don’t think there’s going to be anybody watching these Olympics saying that women can’t box, because they seen me. … I think more women are going to come into the sport.

When the U.S. boxing men’s team was shut out of any medals in London, Shields success became even more important. The woman’s team doesn’t just need her – her sport does.

What’s next for Shields?

One gold was great, but how about two?

In an interview shortly after her first Olympics, Shields told theGrio’s Jay Scott Smith she’s going to remain an amateur and finish high school. The money would be nice, but Shields admits she’s more concerned about setting a good example for her younger brother:

“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.”

Shields told Smith she is leaning towards attending either Michigan State University or University of Michigan’s Flint campus for a year before leaving home. She is the pride of her hometown and could become women’s boxing first back-to-back gold medalist in the middleweight division.

Look out 2016.

Follow Claressa Shields on Twitter @Claressashields