Claressa Shields coaches a contestant while he lifts on July 29, 2018 at "Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful" in Colorado Springs, Colo.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Claressa Shields knows firsthand what it takes to get to the Olympic Games and succeed there. She also knows what it’s like to rise above any challenge life throws your way along the journey.
The Flint, Michigan, native faced many personal hardships growing up and also overcame the stigma of being a female boxer before the sport was part of the Olympic program for women. At age 18 she became one of the first three women’s Olympic boxing gold medalists in history at the Olympic Games London 2012. Four years later in Rio she became the first American, male or female, to win back-to-back Olympic boxing golds.
These reasons and more made Shields an ideal mentor for Season 2 of “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” the United States Olympic Committee’s talent identification and transfer program.
Now a pro boxer, Shields is a WBA, WBC and IBF world champion with a 7-0 pro record. She took time out of her busy schedule to mentor the 90 contestants who spent five days competing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, vying for eight spots in eight sports that would give them a chance at earning spots on Olympic training teams.
Shields spoke to TeamUSA.org about the importance of the program, her advice as a mentor and where she might be if the program existed when she was growing up.
Watch Shields in action on Part 2 of the documentary airing Sunday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. Part 1 re-airs Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel, followed immediately by Part 2.
Why were you interested in being a mentor for Next Olympic Hopeful?
I was interested in being part of it because I’d get to be around athletes again. Me being a pro boxer now, I can’t be around athletes anymore. I’m either in a gym by myself or in a gym with other pro athletes who don’t talk much. I love being around groups of people and sharing my story, and hopefully I become a part of their story. Whether they win here or lose here, they’ll always remember me and remember what I said to them to help them with their life. I think everybody needs that.
To see that there’s equal women and equal men here and how the world has changed; when I was coming up I was the only woman in the gym for a very long time. Some of our basketball teams didn’t have enough girls to play basketball, so to see 45 girls going for different sports and maybe two handfuls of them wanting to go for boxing is shocking to me.
What did you do in your role as a mentor?
I’ve been keeping the athletes motivated, giving them advice, trying to help them keep pushing. They’ve had some hard days here; first day was running, second day was conditioning, third day was boxing. Their bodies are going through it, but I’m trying to let their minds control their bodies and not their bodies control their minds. The body wants to feel good, but the mind is like tell the body to feel good and the body will feel good, so I’m helping get them to that point.
If they feel discouraged or anything, I try to encourage them. We were doing squats and one contestant wiped out his first two. He was picking his own weight and the first time I told him I think you should go down to 350 because he was trying to do 400 at first. He wanted to try 375 the second attempt and he missed that one; then he came to me and I explained you don’t want to wipe out with a 0, you want to get one up there. Now he was ready to listen because I was there supporting him. I said let’s go down to 325 or 300 so you can get it. He did 325 like I told him, and he got one on the board, which to him meant the world. I was so happy that I could be part of that and that I could help him. That’s what I’m here to do.
I was an Olympic hopeful myself and I remember the process and the route I had to take wasn’t easy. I want to tell them you want to have fun but you should leave here knowing you are a super athlete; just being inside this building means you are some kind of freaky animal. You’re a freak of nature if you can be here. We’re at high altitude, you can’t breathe, we’re doing these hard workouts, you’ve got other athletes you’re competing against and the body is just needing water, sleep, and you’re going to work through it. It’s a different type of animal.
This is your first time being involved with Next Olympic Hopeful. What’s your impression of the program?
I love it. I love the talks we get to have with the athletes. I love the different sports that are participating. I’m very intrigued that when they get here they don’t know what sport they’re going for. You could come here thinking, I want boxing, but they’re going to pick you for bobsled. I think that’s interesting that you have track and field and all sort of athletes here and you could end up going any different avenue, plus they don’t just pick you for one sport. For some athletes, multiple coaches want them for boxing, bobsled, rugby. It’s great to see the athletes come in with a wide dream to be an Olympic hopeful in any sport – you don’t know what sport. To me, that’s determination and that’s a dream to have – a wide dream.
Have you been impressed by the talent you saw here?
So impressed. Some of them are built like trucks; they’re strong as ever. Some of the people who you look at and think they’re not so strong, they’re mighty; they’re strong-minded and they’ll be strong when they need to be. Then you have some who think they’re going to win easily, but there’s only been about 10 of those out of the 90. Most of them know they’re going to try their best and aren’t sure what’s going to happen. It’s great to see the different reactions out of everybody, and just to get to talk to them.
I think that my story is very powerful about where I’m from. It’s not only myself that went through that. Some of the contestants’ stories are worse than mine. The fact that they don’t feel alone anymore and that I can talk to them and they say, ‘Wow, she went through all that and look where she’s at,’ I think it can encourage them that no matter if they get picked for a sport or not they can still be great at whatever they want. Just because your mom was an alcoholic doesn’t mean you have to be an alcoholic. Just because your dad went to prison doesn’t mean you have to go to prison. You can control your life, and I’ve been controlling my life since I was 11 years old.
Did you see potential in the athletes chosen as boxing finalists?
Oh my goodness. I saw about six – four girls and two guys – who would do great at the national championships and maybe world championships. The guys were beasts. The girls who were doing it had strong minds, really quick learners and a fighting attitude. It was just fun to watch because they didn’t know anything about the sport. We were with them about two hours and to see how quick they caught on, it was amazing in the last 30 minutes how great they were doing. From my opinion and what I know – I’ve seen it all – they can do great.
What do you see as the importance of this program and being able to transfer athletes’ talents to different sports?
I think it’s great for Team USA and especially for the diversity. When you talk about rugby and lacrosse, I think about white Americans; I don’t think about African Americans. To see we have Carlin Isles here, he’s an African American who plays rugby. It opened my eyes broader. Even in boxing, a lot of the top girls are Mexican or African American. There were some white American girls in here kicking butt. It opens your eyes because from what I can see, times are changing, athletes are changing, and it’s just bringing more diversity to Team USA. You never see an all-black team and you never see an all-white team. We have so many different ethnic groups and I think that’s great. We all have our talent and we’re all great, and we can all learn from each other. It’s a great program and I hope it continues, and it makes me think: If I was an Olympic hopeful coming through this program, would I have picked boxing? Makes me think. I could be a professional rower, I could be playing rugby, boxing. Who knows!