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How This Chicago Boxer Fought Off Her Attacker
Walking alone on the streets of Chicago, Claire Quinn was ambushed from behind. But her assailant didn’t count on his victim being an ace boxing champ.
While walking down Chicago’s popular Wicker Park street mid-morning one Sunday last summer, 26-year-old Claire Quinn stopped to direct a young teen towards the local sporting goods store.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” she reflects. “I just kept walking.”
A few steps later, Quinn felt a hand on the back of her neck. “Suddenly, I felt someone grab my shoulder and spin me around, pushing me to the ground,” she says. “It was a second man—an older guy. Once I was on the ground, he hit me in the head and told me to give him my phone.”
Little did the assailant know, he had chosen a Golden Gloves boxer as his target—and she wasn’t going to surrender her property without a fight.
“At that point, I just started throwing my punches,” says Quinn.
“My first thought was, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this really happening?’” Quinn remembers. “As soon as he threw the first punch, I already knew—that’s it. No man puts hands on me.“
With her left hand protecting her phone against her body, Quinn defended herself with her right, using the torque from her body to put every ounce of effort she could into her punches. The fight ended when a nearby pedestrian came to Quinn’s side, causing the man and teen to flee. Quinn was left with neck trauma and a concussion—a first for the boxer, who has a 6-0 record for 2019 season.
Quinn credits her fighter instincts for helping her gain the upper hand against her attacker. In addition to having fast reflexes, she was used to taking a hit and she wasn’t intimidated by the fists coming at her.
“In the ring, I’m expecting to take a punch, so I just treated it like I was in the ring,” Quinn explains. As she defended herself against the attacker, she remembered the basics of boxing: Exhale when someone throws a punch at you to soften the blow, and exhale again forcefully as you throw a punch back for an extra burst of power.
Fear didn’t really enter the equation during the battle—there wasn’t time to think. “To some extent, adrenaline kicked in like it would in the ring,” Quinn says. “As soon as he hit me, I was ready to defend myself. I was like, ‘I’ve seen my right hand knock girls out, so I’m going to just keep throwing.’”
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Quinn also had the element of surprise on her side, despite being attacked from behind. “Under a hoodie and pants, I don’t look like I’m that strong—I look like I enjoy tacos,” she laughs. “Other people don’t see the muscles from the gym. I looked like an innocent passerby. I think that’s why he gave up. I mean, I’d like to think he’s never having kids because of me, but I also think he realized, ‘Oh s---, this girl can hit.’ And all that for a phone? Not worth it.”
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Rediscovering Her Rhythm
It took a month of recovery, allowing her neck and head a chance to heal while avoiding any activity that would elevate her heart rate, before she got the doctor’s OK to get back to boxing. Eager to move past the mugging, Quinn immediately rallied her coaches and asked to start training for a fight.
“I was really keen on getting back into my regular routine,” she says. “I like the structure of getting ready for a fight and I wanted something to work towards, otherwise it would have just been a constant battle against the anxiety of, ‘What if this happens again?’” Focusing on training gave Quinn a way to occupy her mind, shutting down that voice of doubt. She climbed back into the ring to spar in early October in preparation for a November fight date.
Asked what she is most worried about heading into her first match since the assault, she confides, “I think it’s knowing that I’m going to get hit in the face again—mentally, am I going to have some sort of PTSD?” So far in practice, that hasn’t been the case. “I’m starting to find my rhythm, I’m starting to find my speed, my strength,” she says. “As silly as this sounds, I am just glad to be back to feeling normal.”
A Platform to Empower
Needless to say, Quinn’s assault quickly found its way into the local news outlets. At first, she resisted the attention. But gradually, she realized that her words and experience could empower other women and protect them from similar situations.
“The reason that I started talking about what happened and didn’t stay anonymous was because I realized I could use my voice to tell women, ‘Hey, this happened at 10:30 in the morning—the attackers got unlucky because I know how to fight, but this could be you,’” says Quinn. If it can happen in broad daylight on a busy street, it can happen anywhere, she says.
Her message to women: Learn self-defense. Because while boxing classes are an intense workout, the tools you need to defend against assault are a little different. “A lot of self-defense classes are very situational—if someone comes up from behind, if someone’s in front of you, if you’re trapped under a man because he laced your drink at a party—they cover everything,” she explains.
Gyms, community centers and women’s organizations often offer the class for free. “It’s an hour of your day—maybe you go with your girlfriends and make an afternoon out of it,” says Quinn. “It’s better to be prepared than, God forbid, have something happen to you.”
Learning to Protect Yourself
Self-defense is as much about mentality as it is about moves. It’s about knowing the context of your attack and gauging what advantages and disadvantages your attacker has on you. Trained self-defense experts walk participants through these concepts during a professional session. In the meantime, Quinn recommends learning these self-defense moves to keep yourself safe in case of an attack:
• Front-push kick: Kicks are most powerful when there is enough space between you and your attacker to retract your leg and snap it forward. To practice a front-push kick, aim at a spot about three feet off the ground, striking it with the bottom of your foot. The goal is to drive an attacker backward or distract him momentarily by hitting the stomach, groin or lower half of the leg to knock him off balance.
• Open hand jab-cross: Tempted to close your digits into a ball? Think again. Striking with an open hand instead of your fist is easier on your finger bones; plus, you cover more surface area on your attacker. Practice striking with your weak hand first (to create distance and distraction) followed quickly by your strong hand for power.
• Knee strike: In a nutshell, in this move you nail the hard part of your body into a soft part of your attacker. If you’re standing, get on the balls of your feet so you’ll have the full weight of your body driving your knee up. If you’re on your back, try to thrust your hips forward and up for extra force while you’re in a vulnerable position.
• Shrimping: The goal here is to create space for an escape if you’re trapped on your back. To do this, raise your hips up, bridging on your two feet. Slam your hips into your attacker’s midsection above you. Then quickly twist and slide your hips to one side, forcing your attacker to now approach you from a side position. Repeat the thrust-hit again, pulling your hips away and upward. Continue until your opponent is on his back and you’re in mount position, sitting across his chest/midsection area. From here, you can escape, run or try something else.
Back in the Ring
While her mugging is firmly in the past, Quinn knows that a part of it will always stick with her, especially as she prepares to re-enter the fight world. "It’s definitely been a learning experience, but it’s also been an opportunity to grow,” she muses. “For me, this next match is going to be my chance to say, ‘I’m here, this happened, but it didn’t slow me down and it didn’t break me—let’s get back into it.’ That’s what I’m going to carry with me into this next fight.”
She’s excited as well as nervous. “But I’m always nervous,” she laughs. “It’s one of those things where win or lose—and I think that I’ll win—just getting back in there so quickly is a victory. I want to prove to the boxing community that I’m here, I’m sticking around, and a little detour isn’t going to throw me off the sport.”
If you’re inspired by Quinn’s confidence as much as we are, take her message to heart by signing up for self-defense classes in your community and heading to the gym to do a little sparring of your own.