Making history in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as the first U.S. Boxer to win back-to-back gold medals, Claressa Shields has grabbed the attention of many. Just 21 years old, Claressa has fought through a tough life and emerged a role model.
Her early life was rough. With a father who was in prison for seven of the first nine years of her life and a mother addicted to drugs, Claressa and her family didn’t have enough to eat. Worse, her mother had frequent male visitors who molested Claressa, leaving her scared and vulnerable.
When she finally got the courage to speak about it, her mother didn’t believe her. But eventually another family member came to her rescue. Claressa was sent to live with her Grandmother, who called her Coco. “Coco, I believe you, I do,” she remembers her grandmother saying. Claressa was heartbroken when her grandmother passed away. But she didn’t give up.
Claressa went on to win two world championships and to take gold at the 2012 Olympics. She was just 17. Then, in 2014 when her cousin came asking Claressa for money to help fund an abortion, Claressa refused. She didn’t believe in abortion and she desperately hoped to someday become a mother herself. Through conversations with her cousin, it was determined that Claressa would adopt her cousin’s baby. She was invited into the delivery room and even cut the cord. The baby’s name is Klaressa.
Even while training for the Rio Olympics, Claressa basked in the joy of motherhood. She would often work out at home so as to be with her darling little girl. When she was away, the baby’s birth mother or Claressa’s good friend would care for little Klaressa. “I’m going to give her the best of everything, and I’m going to protect her like no mother ever protected her baby,” Claressa told Yahoo Sports. “I just love having her, even though it’s a huge responsibility. It makes me slow down and think, and that’s a good thing.”
Sadly, things took a turn when Klaressa’s birth mother, eight months after placing her with her cousin, changed her mind. She showed up with the police at Claressa’s door, accusing her of kidnapping. The accusation didn’t go anywhere, but Claressa lost custody of her daughter, who is now living with her birth mother.
But Claressa is resilient. Not only that, she has a strong message to share with women and girls. “I have been through a lot in my life,” she told NPR News, “but I want to inspire people, and I want to give people just a little bit of hope. Because I remember when I was one of those kids who didn’t have any hope. And just when I got just a little bit, look how far I’ve been able to come!”