You may face adversity in life. You may think you need a mentor or coach to help you. You may wish you had someone sponsoring you in your efforts. Well, you can achieve your goals without any of those things. I want to share an inspirational story about someone who has achieved great success despite extreme adversity, a break with her coach, and an outrageous lack of sponsorships.
Have you heard of Claressa Shields? I have asked several people this question, and only one person said the name sounded familiar. She is a two-time gold medal winner of a male-dominated sport, boxing, yet she does not get the media attention she deserves. She won her first gold at the age of 17 in 2012, the first time female boxing was allowed in the Olympics, and she did it again this past summer in Rio.
I first learned of Claressa only by happenstance. I was in JFK airport eating a salad and sipping a glass of wine after a trip to Portugal where salad was difficult to find. (Wine was easier to come by in Portugal, but I was happy to find it at JFK as well!) I was happily settling into my meal and scanning the multiple closed-caption televisions for something of interest when Claressa and her coach caught my attention.
I could not hear the commentary, but I could feel the power, dedication, commitment and strength Claressa had. There was a tangible bond between her and her coach. I am not a boxing fan, but I watched as long as I could until I had to dash to my departure gate to head home to San Francisco. I jotted her name in Evernote and planned to research her further.
When I got home, I discovered a documentary about her, “T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold” and watched it on Netflix. Wow… Her story is so powerful. Claressa Shields has unyielding grit, commitment and determination. She started boxing at eleven years old, as a child in Flint, Michigan. Her father, who had been in prison when she was a young girl, prevented her from boxing before then. Her mother, who struggles with substance abuse, tried to maintain a home for Claressa, even if that meant Claressa slept on a bare mattress on the floor.
Claressa pursued her goals with tremendous dedication. Her coach would tell her to take a day off, but she would show up the next day at 5:30 a.m. to train before high school. That is commitment.
Her coach seemed like the nicest guy and a very talented mentor for Claressa. He had one notable flaw: he was controlling when it came to personal relationships. He had a rule that members of his boxing gym could not date each other. That may be fine in theory, but real life sometimes has its own ideas. Claressa became close friends and romantically involved with a teammate. They defied their coach and attended their high school prom together. Her coach lost his temper when he found out. It seemed to me he was projecting his own personal issues on her. He had divorced twice and didn’t go pro in boxing. I feel his control was also possibly sexist. I got the sense he did not want her to be distracted from future opportunities by getting pregnant or married.
Although she won a gold medal with him in London in 2012, she cut him loose before the 2016 Olympics. She was so committed to her sport that she went to Olympic training camp without a coach. She vigilantly trained herself, but she was eventually assigned an older, Irish coach whose approach to training was not aligned with hers. They ultimately reached a mutual understanding and, as you already know, she won her second gold medal.
After her first gold, she and her first coach thought corporate sponsorships would be rolling in. Claressa told one potential corporate sponsor how she loves beating people up. The sponsor, and her coach, advised her not to say that ever again. She could not understand why, but she agreed. Still, the sponsorship did not come to fruition.
I find myself randomly checking the Internet to see if she has yet signed any corporate sponsorships. I would love to see corporations signing Claressa to endorsement deals, but it does not appear to be happening. A friend noted that companies could hire Claressa to help young girls and her community by starting a boxing school, sharing her expertise and influencing others to excel as she did. Yet she still has not received the endorsements, sponsorships, fame and accolades she deserves.
Claressa is an inspiration to me because she overcame huge adversity, remained determined to succeed even without a coach, and came out on top smiling all the way through. The only time she wasn’t smiling was after her one and only loss. By the way, she graduated high school, another goal she wanted to accomplish, after her first gold medal and before her second.
Claressa is literally fighting to achieve her goals. I want you to join me in pursuing your goals with the tenacity of Claressa Shields!
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps CEOs of public and private companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.