Olympic gold rewards 17-year-old boxer's resolve

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 8:54 a.m. MDT

"Everybody needs that type of security system, and Jason is that security for her," said Adkins, who also was principal at Shields' middle school. "When she's doubting herself, he reminds her she can do it."

Added Rouse, "Jason always says, 'Our children, they need confidence. They need for us to give them the ability to be exactly whatever they can be.' He's right. He built her up. When it came time to stand on her two feet, she did it."

Shields is on track to graduate next spring — despite all her travels, she's an honors student who maintains a B or better average — and wants to be a photojournalist. She used to think she wanted to be a lawyer, maybe a nurse, but changed her mind after working with Sue Jaye Johnson, who included Shields in her multimedia project on female boxers before the London Olympics.

Shields has a small camera and favors "natural" pictures: photos of people training or in their everyday life. She keeps a journal, and also has started a video diary.

"I always liked pictures, and I was already interested in writing," she said. "Seeing how (Johnson) works and how she interviews and all the pictures she took, I really like doing stuff like that."

With little, if any, market for women's professional boxing right now, Shields plans to stay amateur for at least the next two years. She isn't ruling out the Rio Olympics in 2016, though that could depend on what kind of financial support she gets from USA Boxing and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Shields' gold medal came with a $25,000 bonus from the USOC, and she gets a monthly stipend from USA Boxing. But flyweight bronze medalist Marlen Esparza had pre-games deals with Coca-Cola and CoverGirl, and endorsements like that matter for a girl like Shields, who had to start from scratch.

"Claressa seems to be a smart girl and she has a good attitude. Even though, she is young and has a lot to learn, I think she will find her way," Laila Ali said in an email. "She called and asked me for business advice and I told her that she should surround herself with the right team of people that can make the most of her Olympic success. The hype does not last long unless you strategically take advantage of it."

USA Boxing is already working with Crutchfield on lining up new sponsors, and executive director Anthony Bartkowski said he thinks there will be a market for the engaging teenager.

"She's a true superstar for the sport of women's boxing. And all of boxing in the United States," Bartkowski said. "She's young, she's got a great mind, she's ambitious and she wants to do what's good for boxing but also women's professional sports. ... Now we have to fast-track her."

But it won't go to her head, Shields insists.

She is fiercely proud of her flawed city, and is well aware she's become a beacon of hope for its beleaguered residents. Watch parties during the Olympics at her high school's auditorium and a restaurant downtown were packed. Her appearances since London have been equally popular, and everyone in Flint is on a first-name basis with her, even if they don't really know her.

"She's been remarkable in being able to shoulder this," said Bryant Nolden, a city councilman whose ward includes Berston. "She's giving the city of Flint and a lot of youth here hope, showing you can achieve your dreams if you put in hard work and dedication."

Because that, after all, was her real prize.

"Everybody thinks that it's about money and gold. But no, it's not that," Shields said. "It's the fact I know I put in all these years of working and I had a goal set and I accomplished my goal. That's what makes me happy."

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