Peru Pan Am Games
LIMA, Peru (AP) — Ask U.S. boxing team captain Virginia Fuchs about her toughest fight and she'll tell you it was far from a ring.
She felt the knockout in her mind and it was a long count. In boxing it's only 10 seconds that can sometimes seem like a lifetime. Here, it lasted a whole month, and it was only at a hospital where she regained her feet.
Fuchs is back in the ring at the Pan American Games in Peru's capital less than six months after she received in-patient treatment for a bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior.
"Boxing is the peace, the easy part of my life," Fuchs told The Associated Press after she won a fight on Tuesday and advanced to the final in the flyweight category. "I know that sounds funny, but yeah, outside the ring is the challenge in my life."
The 31-year-old spent February at a hospital. It could have been longer, she says, but the Pan Am Games were in her sight since she began boxing 10 years ago.
In the ring in Lima, she has felt light, at ease, at last standing on a solid base. She moved quickly and threw sharp punches against Venezuela's Irsimar Cardozo, and after the fight, she raised her arms in victory while The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA" blared from the arena's speakers. She even stopped to high-five the crowd in the stands and take selfies. Sometimes, though, she still feels pain.
"I'm still struggling with my OCD today. But the treatment did help in teaching me some skills just to help when I'm in a really tough situation. It kind of brought me back so I could get a hold on it," Fuchs said clenching her fists covered with tape.
Fuchs grew up in Houston and tried all sorts of sports. Her dad taught her how to water ski and she joined the swim team. She also played softball, soccer, basketball and volleyball. She got into running in high school. On her first track meet in freshman year, she broke her school record in the one mile and two mile race. She then ran cross-country for Louisiana State University. In her freshman year, she met a professional boxer who took her to a gym to practice her first punches. The coach saw potential and knew she'd go far.
When the International Olympic Committee announced in 2010 that they were including women's boxing in the program for the London Games in 2012, she moved back home.
"I started training for my Olympic dream and built my way up to becoming number one," she said. To focus fully, she moved to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. The training paid off when she won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Then, she took her winning streak to the Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro, where she won gold, and nearly made it to Rio 2016.
"Even though I won the Olympic trials there's that second qualification process ... the International qualification process and that's why I came short," she said. "That was really devastating because I came so close."
Last year, she won the bronze medal at the world championships and at this year's Pan Am's, she regarded as the U.S. team's top boxer. Now she's going for more: "Since I haven't made it to the Olympics yet, I decided to go for Tokyo."
Boxing remains her salvation and joy.
"I feel so relaxed here," she said smiling. She wiped sweat from her face and later fixed blue socks embroidered with the American flag and the letters of her alma mater of LSU.
"When I'm in the ring, all those OCD thoughts, all the struggle in my life outside the ring is gone," she said. "That's why boxing brings me happiness, and I really don't know where I would be without it."
Fuchs also credits the support of her family and her teammates, who lovingly call their captain "the pirate" when she tells them that they're all on a journey to find gold.
"My parents are so excited. I'm sure they're going crazy right now. They knew that I came here to get gold - everybody knows I'm going to get gold. I'm the pirate! Silver is ok, but I need gold in my treasure chest!" she said laughingly.
On the road to Tokyo 2020, she said she also wants to fight to help break the stigma associated with OCD and other mental illnesses.
"There are people who are struggling with OCD and any mental health and they should know that they're not alone," she said.
"You can still be successful, conquer your dreams and do anything. You just got to remember that every day is not going to be easy. You're going to have hard days, but if you always believe in yourself, you'll make it through."