Ginny Fuchs is used to fighting difficult battles as one of the best flyweight boxers in the world. She is calm and focused when in the ring, but the 2021 Olympian’s most challenging fight comes from within her own mind.
Fuchs was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in eighth grade, and she said her symptoms have progressively worsened as she has gotten older. Fuchs’ OCD manifests as a fear of contamination: If she feels that something is contaminated or unclean, she excessively cleans it until the feeling is satisfied.
“If I’m washing my hands, I might be at the sink for 30 minutes, and I might have to use two different soaps because my brain is telling me, ‘That’s not good enough. It’s not clean enough,’” Fuchs told USA TODAY Sports. “I can go through bottles of soap, bottles of shower gel. When I take a shower, I use multiple washcloths and sponges. Once my mind says something is contaminated, it’s very hard for me to feel like it’s all right.”
Fuchs began boxing in college, and the last several years have been the best of her career. She earned a bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships and won silver at the 2019 Pan-American Games. She will enter the Tokyo Games — her first Olympics — at age 33 ranked No. 16 in the world.
While Fuchs’ athletic success has escalated, so have her OCD symptoms. She said the past three years have been the most mentally difficult time in her life. While she isn’t sure why her OCD has worsened, she said the demands associated with elite boxing may be contributing factors.
“It might be how my life has been the past years. I’m not really in a stable home; I’m always traveling from place to place,” she said. “It could be the pressure of always staying at the top level. It’s a different pressure than I’ve ever had in my life.”
In 2019, Fuchs did in-patient treatment for her OCD and has continued to see the therapist she met there. She said exposure therapy, which forces her to cope with situations that trigger her anxiety, has been effective for her in the past, but her access to consistent therapy has been limited.
“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been doing more Zoom calls, but it’s obviously not the same,” she said. “It hasn’t been consistent because my schedule is always changing and treatments are very expensive. As an Olympic amateur boxer, we don’t get paid much, so I have to pick and choose when I really can find time and find money to do sessions with her.”
For the last two years, Fuchs has been followed on her journey with OCD for the filming of a PBS documentary series, Mysteries of Mental Illness, which premiered June 22 and 23. The documentary is partnered with a 20-episode digital series called Mysteries of Mental Illness: Decolonizing Mental Health, which explores inequities in access to mental health resources in marginalized communities.
“I told them, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I’m not going to try to hide anything from you guys,” Fuchs said. “It is weird to have someone right there when you’re doing your rituals, but as time and more filming went on, I got more comfortable with them. They kind of became part of my support group throughout the past two years as well. I made really close friends, and they’ll be my friends forever.”
Currently, Fuchs finds the most comfort when she is in the boxing ring. Because of the intense focus required during competitions, she said it is easier to mask her obsessive-compulsive thoughts in that environment. While it can pose additional challenges, she believes being an elite athlete helps her to manage her symptoms and her self-worth.
“My best friend, Mikaela [Mayer] went to the Olympics in 2016 and is a professional boxer. I’ve lived with her, so she sees me always running around cleaning, doing all these rituals,” she said. “She’s told me before, ‘I don’t get how you do it. I don’t get how you can do this train.’ That almost gives me this confidence that nobody [else] would be able to be at this level and be this good at boxing and deal with OCD. It almost makes me feel like I can do anything. It makes me want to work harder, because I don’t want my OCD to be a problem or the downfall of my boxing.”
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