Virginia Fuchs celebrates her win at the International Boxing Tournament on Dec. 6, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro.
Virginia Fuchs has always lived with such an irrational fear of contamination and germs that she’s forced into elaborate and time-consuming cleaning routines.
She was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when she was in the eighth grade and sought inpatient treatment.
And yet as an adult Fuchs fell in love with the sport that seems most likely to make her skin crawl and her brain scream for relief: Boxing.
When her opponent’s sweat, saliva – and sometimes even blood – sprays all over her, the 30-year-old chooses fight over flight.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” Fuchs said. “Boxing is almost kind of like my therapy for my OCD because it forces me to get dirty. I’m getting hit with these gloves that probably my sparring partner hasn’t cleaned in years or never has cleaned ever since they got them.
“And yes, there’ll be times when I’ll have a split second like, ‘Ugh, there’s blood on me! I really want to go wash my face.’ Then I get out of it. I’m like, ‘No, no, no, you’re supposed to be focusing on your jab.’”
Fuchs’ OCD tendencies have an upside: They’ve made her a punching perfectionist.
“I think that’s why I’m such a good boxer,” said Fuchs, who ran cross-country at Louisiana State University before taking up boxing as a sophomore to stay in shape. “I’ll work at something until I feel like it’s perfect. It’s a love-hate battle with my OCD when it comes to my boxing.”
Now it’s time to see if her hard work will pay off.
Fuchs, who goes by Ginny outside the ring, is a medal contender in the flyweight (112 pounds/51 kg.) division at the Elite Women World Championships, which began Thursday in New Delhi, India. She won her first fight over Ukrainian Tetyana Kob, 30-27.
Fuchs won the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for women’s boxing, defeating favorite Marlen Esparza. She still needed to secure a quota spot for the United States in her weight class. In a heartbreaking turn of events, she missed earning that spot for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 by one fight.
Dashed Dreams Lead To Tokyo Target
Fuchs still went to Brazil as team captain and training partner. Although she mainly went to the arena to support her teammates, she did watch some of the flyweight bouts.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was painful,” Fuchs said. “It hurt, because I was like, ‘Man, I know I could beat that girl easy. That girl shouldn’t have made it; I should have made it.’ But it was a motivation for me to show people that I should have been in Rio, and I’m going to be in Tokyo for sure… and I’m going to win the gold.”
With her original plan to turn pro after winning gold in Rio postponed by four years, Fuchs was unstoppable in 2017. She had an 18-0 record, winning four international tournaments and the U.S. championship and was named 2017 USA Boxing and Under Armour Elite Female Boxer of the Year.
Among those 18 wins, 15 were by unanimous decision and one was by RSC (referee stopped contest).
This season, Fuchs has fought more sparingly so she wouldn’t be burned out before worlds.
She is 7-1 in 2018, her one loss a controversial split decision to Greek boxer Aikarerini Koutsogeorgopo at the Strandja Tournament.
“I don’t know how I lost that,” Fuchs said. “I always tell myself to never leave it up to the judges. When I’m in there, I’ve got to make it an obvious win. Any kind of loss like that where I feel like it’s a robbery, it definitely drives me.”
She also feels driven to share her fight with OCD. Fuchs is working on a documentary with Alanna Dorsett, an old high school friend who founded the production company Point To Where It Hurts. The documentary is called “K(O)CD -- Knocking Out OCD One Punch at a Time.”
Fuchs said she wants to show other people who feel that OCD is controlling their lives “that I’m struggling with it just as much as you guys and I’m able to make it to the Olympics and win a gold medal, so I’m hoping I will be a role model to people who have OCD severely.”
Hazards All Around
Fuchs said she feels under constant stress because she’s always observing what could be contaminated.
“Training and conditioning, I’ll suck it up and put my hands on the floor,” Fuchs said, “but I’ll be conscious that my hands are dirty the whole time. As soon as the workout’s done, I’ll run to the bathroom and wash my hands. I might be in there 30 minutes washing my hands.”
If she needs to do push-ups just before putting on her boxing gloves, she’ll put a towel or paper towel on the floor to protect her hands.
With training three times a day, each shower between and after sessions can take an hour apiece.
“It just affects my overall time,” said Fuchs, who graduated from LSU in 2011 with a degree in kinesiology and is a personal trainer. “When I’m stuck in the bathroom I could instead be relaxing my mind or resting my body or getting worked on by a physical therapist or massage therapist.”
Her OCD has eased sometimes over the years. Despite her recent success, however, Fuchs said it has gotten worse the past 18 months to two years.
The Kemah, Texas, native believes that might be due to her move to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Without having to worry about paying rent or buying groceries, she said, “It gives me more time to worry about being clean, so it kind of enables my OCD a little it in that way because I have so much more free time.”
The OCD also could be exacerbated by the stress of performing at a high level and thinking about her future. Fuchs said her OCD causes her to miss opportunities. While other boxers are meeting with potential sponsors after a competition, she might still be in the shower.
“Or I’ll be so focused on getting clean that I forget to post something on social media that day to build followers,” Fuchs said. “The first thing sponsors look for is how many followers you have.”
Seeking Professional Help
She has been working with a sports psychiatrist who has her doing brain exercises like throwing a tennis ball against a wall with her right hand for a minute and then switching to her left hand.
“The purpose is trying to rewire my brain on the way I think so that when I’m in the middle of my OC routines I can stop and be like, ‘OK, I don’t need to do this,’” Fuchs said.
In the ring, it goes away as if by magic.
“Something about boxing, my brain is able to switch it off,” she said. “That’s why I always say, ‘If I didn’t have boxing, I don’t know where my OCD would be.’”
Fuchs follows the same ritual every time she competes, starting an hour and a half before leaving for the arena. First she brushes her teeth, which can take 10 to 20 minutes.
“I’ll continue brushing the right side of my mouth until it feels clean,” she said, “and sometimes if I don’t stroke it right, I’ll feel like that brush got contaminated, so I’ll throw it away and have to start over with a new toothbrush. I go through a lot of toothbrushes, which I know is horrible for the environment.”
Then Fuchs gets in the shower to wake up her body and loosen up her muscles. Long showers are reserved for after her fights, so the pre-bout shower is a hot-cold contrast of 30 seconds warm, 30 seconds cold and repeat. After a teammate braids her hair, she gets dressed, always including her LSU “Geaux Tigers” socks, which also have an American flag on them.
“A Pirate’s Life For Me”
In the ring, Fuchs lets her pirate persona come out. After all, as she travels the world seeking world and Olympic gold medals, she already has what she calls “my pirate gold that I found on my journey.”
It’s a gold medallion that she wears to international competitions, though it is not allowed in the ring.
“It’s my little kid in me,” she said.
Fuchs got it at Disney World at the gift shop outside Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but she’s had a pirate’s mentality almost as long as she’s had OCD.
Her family had a lake house south of Houston and she loved being on the water.
“Water just kind of brings me peace,” Fuchs said. “I like the idea of pirates having their freedom, sailing the seas.”
When she was named captain for the 2016 Olympic team, she said, “I was like, ‘OK guys, y’all are my crew. We’re on a journey to find gold,’ and it was a metaphor for our journey to get that gold medal at the Olympics. It just kind of became my brand in my boxing career and everybody loved it.”
During warm-ups, Fuchs would issue pirate commands like “Fire the cannon!” or “Draw your sword,” to initiate different exercises.
“It brought us closer together as a family and just made the atmosphere fun and training more enjoyable,” Fuchs said, “so I just went along with it and now everybody calls me the pirate and I love it.”
Captain Fuchs, who said her favorite pirates are Captain Kidd and Blackbeard “because he was ruthless,” even uses pirate commands as code in the ring.
Fuchs said if she hears coach Billy Walsh yell out “Fire the cannon!” then “I’ll be like, ‘Oh, OK, throw that left.’ The opponent is like, ‘Whoa, what does that mean?’”
It might mean she’s going down.
And then after the referee raises Fuchs’ arm in victory and the endorphins start to wear off, she said, “then my OCD thoughts will come. ‘Oh gross, I’m all sweaty, I need to get in the shower.’”