(Photo: Reuters/Murad Sezer)
Just a few short hours before her gold medal bout, 17-year-old boxing phenom Claressa Shields tweeted from the London Olympics scene, "God is awesome!!!"
About an hour later, she tweeted, "I don't even need my gangsta music today.... Im already ready to handle business!"
Soon after, it became apparent that Shields certainly was ready, defeating Russia's Nadezda Torlopova Thursday to claim the only gold medal for the U.S. boxing team (men and women) while becoming the second-youngest boxer ever to win gold.
"I don't even know that this is real right now," said Shields to a crowd of reporters after her match. "I'm surprised I didn't cry. This is something I wanted for a long time."
Her life story and young career, already the subject of a documentary being filmed in her hometown of Flint, Mich., and various fight locations, including London, is one that many observers view as an epic script for a Hollywood movie.
"In the bowels of the F.W.C. Berston Fieldhouse in Flint, Mich., with old equipment when it was there and makeshift gear when it was not, Claressa Shields worked," wrote Sports Illustrated boxing analyst Chris Mannix after Shields' gold medal win. "There was no promised payoff, no hint that boxing would elevate her to a better life. Yet since age 11 she was there, nearly every day, battering heavy bags until they split, sparring with boys because there were no girls who could go rounds with her."
As the world came to know Shields even more during her quest for gold it has become evident that to say she comes from a "troubled" family and community environment is an understatement. For just one example, she has lost four friends in gang-related deaths within the last two years.
Youth boxing trainer Rick Daniels lives 10 miles from where Shields trains. Daniels told The Christian Post on Thursday that while Shields was in London, there was a shooting last week in front of her family's home. Asked if Shields knew about the incident, Daniels said, "Well, it was on the front page of the Flint Journal."
Daniels, who said he is a Christian, works with at-risk youth in Flint and the surrounding community in his program called "Save the Youth Boxing." He has chatted with Shields before on Facebook and said he is ecstatic about her success "because she is an extraordinary woman."
"She has really uplifted the community as a whole because Flint is characterized as the most dangerous city in America as far as homicides go. There's a lot of despair, a lot of unemployment, and homelessness within this community," said Daniels, 46. "She is a fine example of what you can do if you pray and work hard, and you dedicate yourself to a goal."
Mannix reports that if Shields were a man, turning pro would be the logical next step because of the potential for a lucrative career that many former Olympic medalists achieve.
However, women's professional boxing in the U.S. is still a question mark.
"The talent in women's boxing is improving, but it's happening at a time when boxing as a whole is on the decline," a promoter and former HBO executive told SI recently. "Because there is not any money to be made in it, you just aren't going to see many women on shows."
Mannix continued about Shields in his article: "In fact, remaining an amateur could be the most lucrative path … she is an intelligent, well-spoken high school senior with the charisma of Floyd Mayweather and the pop of Manny Pacquiao. If – and this is a big if – endorsers line up for her, she will be in Rio in 2016."
Shields herself may be beginning to realize her impact on the future of women's boxing.
"No one is going to watch the Olympics and say women can't box," said Shields, as reported by Mannix. "They saw me get down."