Zackary Canepari met Claressa Shields shortly before her 17th birthday, a few months before she won the first gold medal ever awarded for women’s boxing, in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Her story was the subject of Canepari and Drea Cooper’s 2015 documentary film T-Rex, which follows Shields’s victory and the obstacles she faced back home in Flint, Michigan. A new book, Rex, published this month by Contrasto, collects the photographs Canepari made over the past five years, concurrent with and following the film, which tell the complex story of Shields’s life, and the people close to her, as they struggle to succeed.
The images in Rex mix Shields’s work in the ring with her distinctly less glamorous life outside of it. We see her wait alone in a TV studio for an interview to begin, wearing her medal. Later we see the medal on a table in her messy bedroom at her coach’s house, in a room that looks more chaotic than the average teenager’s. We meet Claressa’s sister Briana, who describes Claressa as her better half, and Briana’s young son, born while his father was in jail. And we meet Jason, who, before London, “was her coach and second father. But afterwards he was her manager, agent, lawyer, stylist, life coach and publicist,” a stressful combination of roles, made tougher by the endorsements and sponsorships that didn’t materialize after her win. Canepari also shows life in Flint and the problems that stem from “economic, political and social dysfunction” that “everyone knows…to expect when they hear the name ‘Flint.'” There are boarded up houses and bullet holes in glass, the result of a time when “someone emptied a revolver into the side of Rell’s [Shields’s boyfriend] house,” where she was staying.
The story has a bittersweet ending. In 2015 Shields left Flint to train in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center. We see her driving off, her hair blowing in the wind, leaving behind strong connections to forge a new life. In 2016, she won gold in Rio.
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