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Documentary tells story of Flint's T-Rex

Sep 22, 2015

Claressa Shields is the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing
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One of the breakout stars of the 2012 summer Olympics in London was a teenage girl from Flint.

Claressa Shields made it to London to become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in boxing.

Shields, nicknamed “T-Rex,” is still going strong. She won the World Championship in 2014, and she recently won gold at the Pan American games in Toronto.

T-Rex is a documentary film about Claressa Shields that will be screened this Friday in Grand Rapids.

The film’s producer Sue Jaye Johnson says she first met Shields at the last qualifying tournament for the Olympic trials.

“She fought unlike any woman that I had seen fight until that point. Just fierce, like she didn’t even know that there were limits to what she could do. There probably are no limits to what she can do,” Johnson says.

Johnson says she was struck by Shields’ ferocity and passion for fighting. After watching her fight, Johnson sat down with Shields and her coach for an interview, “for what turned out to be a couple hours, and then what turned out to be a couple years.”

Shields’ determination and strength of character in spite of her background drove Johnson to follow the fighter through the years.

“It was just so clear the stakes are so high for her. Living in Flint with a really tough family life and very few resources, the margins are razor thin,” Johnson says.

When Shields discovered boxing at 11 years old, the sport and the environment immediately resonated with her.

“From the first day that I ever went down [to the gym,] I just felt like I was at home,” she says. “I felt like I could train and sweat and do what the guys are doing without being judged.”

Shields tells us that she stepped into the ring for the first time after two months of training.

“I boxed against a guy who was boxing for almost six years, and I beat him up. So after that I always just wanted to come back to the gym. I wanted to get better, I wanted to get stronger, and I was just learning,” Shields says.

Shields hopes the film and her story will inspire others to pursue their passion no matter where they’re coming from or how they were raised, and show women that they don’t have to be limited by their femininity.

“I hope that … women get that you can do sports and you can be great and you can be, I guess they call it 'masculine' ... and still be beautiful,” Shields says. “Yes, you can be a lady and you can be tough.”

With the Olympic trials just over a month away, Shields isn’t letting success go to her head.

“Even though I’m the Olympic gold medalist 2012, there are still people that want to see other girls go [to the Games,]” she says. “Every opponent is a world champion to me. I’m never off my game or never underestimating anybody.”

T-Rex got its world premiere last spring at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, and has been winning awards on the film festival circuit ever since.

It will be shown in Grand Rapids at the Waterfront/ArtPrize Film Festival on September 25.

More information can be found on the film’s website.

-Ryan Grimes, Stateside