Many of Chicago's cabbies are known for their great storytelling, but one particular driver has such an amazing life tale, it's become the focus of a working documentary.
Estaifan Shilaita, 63, has driven his cab around Chicago every day, up to 12 hours a day, for almost 15 years. When passengers hail his taxi, they soon learn Shilaita is not just a friendly driver, he's Iraq's former national boxing champion.
Credit: Instagram user bigdataoz
A huge star in Iraq, Shilaita reigned as the light-heavyweight champion from 1968 to 1976 and says he was also the goalie for Iraq's soccer team. Despite his success in sports, he's said his Christian faith meant he could never represent his country on an international stage.
Facing persecution for his faith, Shilaita fled Iraq in 1976 and headed to Greece to pursue boxing on his family's encouragement. After leaving behind four brothers, four sisters and both his parents in Iraq, Shilaita ultimately immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 to pursue "a better life and religious freedom."
New York-based filmmakers Patrick McGowan and Brett Garamella were so moved by Shilaita's story after landing him as a driver on a visit to Chicago, they decided to make a documentary about his life, aptly named "The Champion" (see video embedded below).
With the project mostly complete, the duo launched a Kickstarter campaign last Friday to raise the last remaining bit of cash that will help complete production of Shilaita's story.
Fox Chicago reports Shilaita now lives in Skokie with his wife and four adult children, all of whom he put through college driving his cab around the city.
"I tell my kids, this is the land of the opportunity to be anything you want," Shilaita told Fox.
"Everyday I'm blessed. I say to my family, 'God bless America.'"