“Rest” isn’t in Northwestern (Flint, Mich.) junior Claressa Shields’ vocabulary. The 165-pound force to be reckoned with has no time to waste as she prepares for this summer’s Olympics, the inauguration for women’s boxing.
After completing training camp at the U.S. Olympic complex in Colorado Springs, Colo., Shields will turn her attention to representing Team USA in London. Her training home, though, is Flint’s Berston Field House, where Shields, 17, has poured sweat and tears since she began boxing at age 11.
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“I’ve never seen a female box like her,” says her coach Jason Crutchfield. Shields’ punches, he says, remind him of legendary boxer Joe Louis. “She punches real straight, hard and fast.”
A gifted athlete, Shields has developed her powerful style through regular practice against guys — not that she has a choice. She’s one of two females who wasn’t intimidated by Berston’s front door.
Inside is hardly an all-boys club, though. At Berston, “you’re not a male or a female. You’re an ‘athlete,’” Crutchfield says. Shields and everyone else train just the same.
A typical workout might seem like boot camp to others — 600 crunches, 50 pushups, 2 ½ miles around the track, 4-5 rounds of combo throws followed by 4-5 rounds of sparring, sometimes one-handed. Then Shields grabs a rope and jumps for 12 minutes before finishing with more hitting on the bag.
As if that wasn’t enough, the soon-to-be Olympian ran 3-4 miles on weekends and honed her foot speed with additional agility drills to prepare for London.
“It’s easy,” Shields says of her training regimen. “Fighting is the hardest part.”
Shields realized that in May at the Women’s World Boxing Championships in Qinhuangdao, China, where she lost to England’s Savannah Marshall.
“I really hadn’t studied any film on Savannah,” says Shields, who entered the match 26-0. “If I knew she was a runner [a boxer who uses lateral movement to avoid being hit], I would have adjusted, in my mind, how to fight her.”
The loss only adds to the fire that fuels Shields’ desire.
“Claressa’s hungry,” Crutchfield says. “She really wants to accomplish something. That’s where everything stems.”
Shields has displayed that hunger in Berston, where a particularly frustrating session with a sparring partner reduced her to tears.
“He was hitting me and talking trash, and I couldn’t handle the words,” recalls Shields. “It made me mad. He was so much stronger than me. I wasn’t mentally tough.”
Moments like that motivate Shields, who recognizes frustration as a necessary ingredient to helping her succeed. The other major component is exhaustive commitment.
“When everybody is out there having fun, I’m at the gym,” Shields says. “There are days when I don’t feel like going, but I always find my way. If I decide to stop working, that’s on me. I’ve sacrificed everything. I’m not going to give it up.”
And that is Shields’ recipe for a champion. Come London, she’ll find out if the taste is golden.