A rape survivor is often considered weak and that she can not do much in her life even after moving beyond the traumatic experience. But this notion is complete nonsense. There have been many examples of bold women who survived rape and went on to achieve extraordinary success in their lives. One such extremely inspiring story is of Claressa Shields- the undisputed female middleweight champion since April 2019. Claressa is an American professional boxer. She has held multiple world championships in two weight classes. She held the unified WBC and IBF female super middleweight titles from 2017 to 2018.
Claressa was born in Flint, Michigan in 1995, and started talking quite late at the age of five. Her father was in prison for three years for dealing in drugs. I wouldn’t meet him again for another four. Her mother was an alcoholic. She had to go out and get food. Whatever little food she got she gave to her younger siblings. If she got two packs of noodles, her younger sister and younger brother ate one pack each and she herself went hungry. They would sleep on the couch or the floor.
Taking care of her siblings instilled independence in Claressa. She learned early on in life to take care of herself. She learned to do little jobs for money – walking to the general store for people and helping them with their groceries got her about two dollars.
It was at this time, that she was raped. It happened every day for about six months by a person known to her family.
Her aunt had never seen her cry. she was always an obedient child – but she saw fear in her eyes after being abused. Since Claressa had a speech impediment so when her aunt asked her why she was sad and afraid, she couldn’t explain it. Her aunt gave her a doll and then she showed her everything the man had done to her. This trauma left Claressa terrified of men for a while and she was full of anger and disgust for them all.
Claressa Shields also faced bullying at school at the age of seven or eight. Once she punched a girl who was bullying her. Claressa was kicked out for a couple of days, but when she came back to school nobody messed with me. So from that day, anybody who messed with her, she fought them.
After her dad came out of prison, Claressa got to know him better. One day he was very stressed out. He had been in prison for many years and was trying to change his life, but wasn’t getting any jobs or opportunities. He said to her, “If I stuck to what I was passionate about, I wouldn’t be in this situation,” “What were you passionate about?” Claressa asked. “Boxing,” he replied. He told her that of Muhammad Ali’s nine children only his daughter Leila Ali took up boxing. But when Claressa decided to take up boxing as her career her dad said, “No! Boxing is a man’s sport and you’re too pretty to box.” Finally, he agreed to her choice of going for boxing and told her that once he signed her up and paid my $60 membership for gym and coaching, she couldn’t quit boxing for a year. Her dad regards it till today that was the best $60 he ever spent.
In 2012, Claressa Shields participated in London Olympics. She heard commentators say, she would be lucky if she got a bronze medal. She watched the Russian Nadezda Torlopova win her semi-final and thought she could beat her! She remembers being calm when she was announced as the winner! She had shown people what she had in her.
She wanted to celebrate 2012 iconic win for four years but didn’t go to celebrate with friends. She was back in the gym three months later. Before Rio Olympics 2016, she heard that no American boxer had ever won two consecutive Olympic titles. Media commented she was being too confident, but she believed in herself and worked hard, to stay confident.
Claressa worked harder than her competitors and worked alone a lot. The result of her hard work was that she made the final fight look too easy and smooth. She was calm and dominant all through the fight. When her name was announced as the winner she just grabbed the US flag and ran around screaming joyfully.
“After all the things I had been through in my life, I just looked out on where I was. I was able to make it. It didn’t stop me.”Claressa Shields (After winning Rio Olympics 2016)
Remembering the Past
At the age of 16, Claressa Shields saw the man who raped her for the last time. He was walking his dog. Both looked at each other. Claressa feels if he did not have his dog with him, she would have beaten him up and would have probably been in jail before she got a chance to go to the Olympics. She Said,
“I’m not going to let a man that evil and foul have control over me. I’m not going to let him be the decision-maker.”
Claressa advises all survivors of sexual abuse to not let ‘something someone did to you – something that made you feel worthless to stop your life’.