Olympic Athlete Claressa Shields Became a Fighter to Fulfill Her Dad's Pre-Prison Boxing Dreams
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was 11 years old when she decided to enter the ring for her dad
For professional female boxer Claressa Shields, honoring her father's dream to fight has been her greatest win.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist tells PEOPLE that her father, Clarence "Bo Bo" Shields, was her inspiration to enter the ring at 11 years old.
Claressa, 25, says she and her father "spent a lot of time" together after he was released after seven-years incarcerated for a breaking-and-entering conviction. She recalls her father, who had a brief career as an amateur fighter, telling her about his passion for the sport.
"One day he would just tell me how he wished that he would've never went to prison, 'cause he would've done what he loved. And I said, 'What was that?' And he said, 'Boxing.' "
"He felt that if he would've stuck to it, he probably would have been able to get a fight. At that moment, I decided that I would box for my dad, so he can live some of his life through me," she tells PEOPLE.
As a female athlete in a male-dominated sport, Claressa says she's always been respected as a fighter — until it came to her paycheck.
″Even though I have the most accomplishments than any other male fighter here in America today, they still get paid three, four times, five times, probably even 10 times more than me," she says.
The athlete — who made history as the first American woman to win gold in boxing and the first American boxer (male or female) to win gold in back-to-back Olympic Games (2012 and 2016) — says she ″doesn't understand″ why she makes less than her male counterparts.
″I take the bigger fights, and the bigger chances, but they still get paid more than me,″ she explains. ″And not only do I have to fight for that but fight for equal TV time, equal promotion. It's like, everybody says, they want equality in sports, but it still just isn't happening, just like in soccer.″
Still, the boxer says she's ″super proud″ of the way she's been able to stay ″disciplined enough to win" in the sport.
In looking back on her Olympic win four years ago, she tells PEOPLE she's reminded of her hard work.
″I feel like discipline is the hardest thing about boxing,″ she says. ″It's not about the training, the fighting. It's about being disciplined when you're not inside the ring that I like to applaud myself on.″
For young girls who want to get into boxing, Claressa has one key piece of advice: ″Don't be afraid to be different.″
″I think that at first when I first got into the sport, people did kind of look at it as boxing is a 'man's sport.' But now, after it's been 14 years down the line, I've been able to go to two Olympics, and win gold medals, people can see there's a beauty to being a woman and a fighter,″ she says.
As she continues to honor her father in every fight, Claressa says she is also looking forward to giving a special tribute to Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, and the late basketball player's daughter Gianna in her next match (no date has been announced).
″They were just really great people,″ she says. ″Chadwick Boseman inspired me so much, just from the movie Black Panther, and his life. And who wasn't inspired by Kobe Bryant? He was a winner. He was a hard worker and I feel like I'm a female version of him — I just box.″
Claressa tells PEOPLE she has a ″nice outfit" planned for her next fight that will be purple, gold, and black and will include a Black Panther chain, the names of Boseman, Kobe and Gianna, and a pair of wings to represent heaven.
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