US teenager hoping for Olympic gold

Flint, Michigan, is one of America's best examples of urban decay. A young female boxer is hoping to turn its future around.


    Flint, Michigan, is one of America's best examples of urban decay.

    In its heyday, in the 1950s and '60s, Flint was a booming automobile-industry town – home of the car manufacturer General Motors.

    But when the factories closed down, the city began a drastic decline into poverty and crime that seems almost impossible to stop.

    Now, a young female boxer named Claressa Shields is hoping to turn her town's future around.

    The 17-year-old is carrying the hopes of a struggling city in her quest for an Olympic gold medal at the London Olympics.

    Claressa was born and raised in Flint. It wasn't an easy childhood.

    She shared her story with me when we spoke inside the boxing ring at the Berston Boxing Club, where she trains – for hours a day, seven days a week.

    "It's been hard because of the sacrifice. I sacrifice my time, my friends, and a lot of my freedom.You train, train, train, harder every day,” she told me.

    Childhood sacrifices

    Claressa has also sacrificed a lot of her childhood. Her father has spent time in jail, her mother is unemployed. 

    She now lives with her aunt but says every day is still difficult for her and thousands of others living in Flint.

    "They do struggle," she said.

    "My mom struggled when I lived with her and I grew up and I didn't have a lot of clothes and wasn't able to get the nicest shoes."

    In addition to the poverty, there is crime. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation last year ranked Flint as America's most dangerous city to live.

    Dozens of unsolved murders, rapes and robberies dominate the town's headlines.

    Claressa told me it was her father that eventually encouraged her to take to the ring and follow in his footsteps.

    She's been boxing since she was eleven years old, and says the training has helped keep her focused and out of trouble like a lot of her friends.

    Despite Claressa's demanding training schedule, she is making her high school's academic honour roll.

    Her coaches say Claressa's other gift is her ability to transform anger from her difficult upbringing into speed and strength in the ring.

    Until recently, Claressa had never lost a fight. The town is counting on a winning performance in London and Claressa tells me she is ready to deliver.

    "I know how important it is for me to win for myself, for my team and just for Flint, and for America," Claressa said.

    Up to the challenge

    Claressa's trainer, Jason Crutchfield, believes she up to the challenge and the responsibility that goes with representing the US at the Summer Olympics.

    It is the first time women will be allowed to compete at the Olympic level in the sport, and all of Flint is watching he said.

    "She's got Flint on her back. A lot of people want to see some good come out of it," Crutchfield said.

    Boxing trainer Leon Lawson told me Flint needs the boost a gold medal win for Claressa would provide.

    "We need the uplift, because I've never seen this town so low. Every other house is vacant. It's turning into a ghost town. Maybe she can bring it back alive somewhat."

    Claressa says she plans to do just that. "God's gonna help me carry everybody. I made it here and I'm not gonna let nothing stop me," she said.

    Claressa knows the top medal prize would bring her endorsements - and, for good measure, the emotional and economic boost that most agree Flint desperately needs.




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