Up2Us Sports Ambassador
As the month of March comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on National Women’s History Month. There are many inspirational women in this world, and as a female athlete, I’m glad I can inspire others to learn, grow and become the best they can be. When I became the first American female to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing at the 2012 London Olympic Games, I achieved a dream that I had been working toward for many years.
On my path to the Olympics I met many strong women who greatly impacted my life. Learning about their journeys showed me that with hard work and dedication, my goals were achievable. Now as a member of the USA boxing team, I know that I can advocate for women encountering barriers that may hold them back. No matter your background or previous experiences, females have the power to inspire and impact each other.
When I first started boxing at the age of 11, I was the only girl in the gym. Some judged me, others made comments here and there, but I always considered myself one of the best. When people said “boxing is a man’s sport,” it didn’t bother me because I was confident in myself and my passion for boxing. To me it didn’t matter that I was a girl; in my eyes, God chose me to show others that boxing isn’t a sport just for men.
There were times when I wanted to hang out with friends or do fun things, but I made sacrifices because I knew I wanted to be better. My real friends stuck by my side, and I realized that people who made me feel bad for being different weren’t the people I wanted in my life. For girls trying to pursue their dreams, it’s important to stay motivated, no matter the environment or criticism. I always tell myself to ignore what others say and to keep moving forward, because it is up to each of us to place a higher standard for ourselves and live up to it.
I used to have anger problems, but with the help of my coach I learned how to carry myself, speak to others, and channel my anger through boxing. My coach trained me step-by-step and I wouldn’t have learned had I not been willing to listen.
He was critical to my development and provided the support and inspiration needed during my hardest moments; without my coach I may have gone down another path. Seeing his dedication motivated me to get involved with Up2Us Sports, a nonprofit dedicated to training coaches nationwide in Sports-Based Youth Development (SBYD). Knowing firsthand the power of a coach, I feel that every child deserves a quality sports coach.
Through sports, youth are able to develop goal-oriented, high-impact attributes such as resiliency and grit. Even if they don’t win the game or beat the opponent, they are still motivated to do better the next time around. My dedication and years of training not only led me to the gold medal but also taught me that women shouldn’t fear obstacles standing in the way of their goals. As I focus on training for the Rio Olympics, I hope that sports will become a platform of equal opportunity for women and girls. If a man can do it, why can’t a woman?
Original article published on EmpowHER.com by Up2Us Sports Ambassador Claressa Shields