Editor's Note: Claressa Shields went on to win the U.S. gold medal for women's boxing on August 9 in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
At 11, Claressa Shields decided she wanted to box, even with her father’s objections. At 17, she is the youngest female competing in the women’s boxing arena at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“She's a beast. She's physically and athletically the most exciting thing to happen to women's boxing in a long time,” photographer Zackary Canepari said. Along with fellow producers Drea Cooper and Sue Jaye Johnson, Canepari has documented the teenage boxer as she trains, competes and lives the life of a normal teenager.
The team has followed the young athlete, who is from Flint, Michigan, to Canada, China, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs and now to London.
“Following her is like following a rock star,” Canepari said. “My frequent flier miles are stacking up.”
It began for Canepari when he and Cooper, who have worked together since 2009, began researching for a project about teenage female fighters. They heard about Shields and within a week found themselves in Flint in March, before she had qualified for the Olympics.
“Within three days of shooting in Flint, we had scrapped our plans at following other girls,” Canepari said. “We wanted to follow Claressa as far as she would let us go. She was magnetic as a person. Flint is magnetic as a place. Boxing is magnetic as a sport. For Drea and I, I don't think we hesitated for even a second. It was a story we wanted to tell.”
Shields’s boxing name is “T-Rex,” which may be accurate for the ring, where she has “no fear and talks a big game,” but outside of her fighting, she’s very down to earth.
“She’s approachable, acceptable, lovely,” Canepari said.
Since qualifying for the Olympics, Shields has skyrocketed to “rock star status,” Canepari said, making access to the competitor difficult. In London, the production team won’t even have shooting ability; they’ll have to buy any footage from NBC to include in the working feature-length documentary.
As the group continues following Sheilds’ impressive journey to the Olympics and back to high school this fall, they’ve started a Kickstarter effort to raise money for the project. They hope to at least follow her through December.
“I want people to hear her story and root for her,” Canepari said. “She deserves the support and love she’s getting.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN