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No Ceilings

Claressa Shields: A letter to boxing fans

The two-time gold medalist has a message for both detractors and supporters: The world is changing

Note: Claressa Shields, who owns three middleweight world titles, and Christina Hammer, who has the other major belt, will meet for the undisputed championship on April 13 (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT)

To the people who misunderstand me and the people who understand and celebrate me, I welcome you to this open letter in what I call the year of the overcomer.

My name is Claressa Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. Growing up, the only world I knew was Flint, and only thing I understood in life was boxing. I won my first gold medal at 17 during the 2012 London Olympics. (Woot! Woot! God is good!)

American professional boxer, Claressa Shields

Though some people chose to focus on my hair, my body and the way I talked, I couldn’t care less about a hairstyle or the way I spoke. If you asked me about college, family and my upbringing, I was mute. I didn’t want to talk about anything I didn’t understand or anything that was hurtful. Now, if you asked me about boxing, we could have a conversation.

The media attention waned after my first Olympics win, but I was too focused on myself to worry about it. No one understands greatness at the beginning, so I don’t blame anyone for the lack of attention, but 17-year-old Claressa was a beast! I liked to call myself the focus master — my mind was untouchable so my body had no say-so! I know many people don’t understand my tenacity, my mean streak, my anger. But it’s not for you to understand. Accept me as I am. Accept me as I change and the world around me changes.

For those who celebrate me, thank you! Thank you for being so open-minded as I changed the definition of what it means to be a “strong woman.” I really didn’t have a clue at 17. Now that I’m 23, I’m celebrated because of my accomplishments, my community service and my continued boxing success. But as we celebrate, please be mindful that I am fighting more than one fight. I have to work extremely hard just to make small demands. I keep a smile on my face because happiness is contagious and I want everyone to be happy. Being a leader is always hard. Sometimes you wish you could hand someone your job, but deep down inside, you know that to get something done the right way, you should do it yourself.

I chose to write this letter because I wanted to explain to everyone that the world is changing. (LeBron is the new GOAT! I am the new GWOAT!) Accept the world as the old make way and allow the new to come in. Open your eyes a little wider, and really be mindful that sports have no gender.

My definition of a strong woman is a woman with big, in-shape muscles, is strong-minded, and has a beautiful smile and a voice so loud that she can never be silent in a room of inequality. The world is changing. Accept me and accept us! This is the year of the overcomer.