A man punched her and tried to steal her cellphone — then quickly realized he was messing with a Golden Gloves boxer
CHICAGO — Chicago boxer Claire Quinn was on the way to the gym last weekend, planning on sparring in the ring, when she ended up in a street fight in the Bucktown neighborhood.
A teenager asked Quinn for directions to the Nike store as she walked in the 1600 block of North Damen Avenue about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Moments later, an older man came up from behind and sucker punched her in the head, demanding her cellphone.
But the blow didn't stop Quinn, a Golden Gloves champion with a 6-0 record this year.
"I was like, 'Aw, heck no,'" she said by phone Thursday from Florida, where she went to stay with her parents while recuperating from a concussion from the attack. "He punched me the one time really hard, and then after that I just kept throwing my right hand into his groin."
Her right is her dominant arm — the one responsible for four knockouts this year. It didn't fail her. The two exchanged five or six punches apiece while the man tried to grab the phone she kept clutched in her left hand. He finally gave up and ran off empty-handed.
"Eventually I connected enough that he stumbled away from me," Quinn said from a salon where she was having her nails — fingers and toes — painted a bright yellow shade called "Never a Dulles Moment," which she said, "seemed to be the perfect shade under the circumstances."
Quinn, 26, doesn't think she was an obvious target. She wasn't carrying a purse, wasn't wearing headphones and wasn't dressed up. "I don't wear my nice workout clothes on sparring days because I don't want to get blood on Lululemons," she joked.
But the muggers probably thought she would be easy to rob because she seemed "Midwestern nice" and answered the teen's question about getting to the Nike store about a block away, Quinn said.
"One of the reasons I love Chicago is, if you are lost, someone will help you," she said. "I'm not a mean person but after this — literally, all I said to them is, 'It's a block away,' and with that simple statement they decided I was their target. That's something I'm going to remember.
"I hate it, but I feel like from now on I'm not going to respond, I'm just going to keep walking," she said.
Quinn, who fights in the 152-pound weight class, said it never crossed her mind to hand over her iPhone. Her first thought was, "You've got to be kidding me. A man literally thought he could assault me and get away with it. I was angry and wanted to make him regret picking/targeting me. A motto I live by: 'Do no harm but take no s**t.'"
A pregnant woman ran to her aid and, along with others, helped her to a nearby cafe where she waited for police and paramedics. She declined an ambulance ride to a hospital for evaluation, but awoke Monday with a headache and blurred vision and went to see a doctor, who told her she had a concussion — something she's never had from boxing.
She hopes to be back in the ring as soon as October, with a goal of competing nationally in 2020.
"The sooner I can get back into the gym, the more life will feel normal," she said. "It's like my second home. ... There's always something to work on. Boxing's very technical. Punching a guy in the groin wasn't very technical, but it did the job."
The native Floridian, who has lived in the city since attending and graduating from Columbia College Chicago, said she took up boxing in 2015 after gaining weight following knee surgery. Her father is into combat sports and suggested she try boxing.
She became so good so quickly she now works at the gym where she trains, Unanimous Boxing Gym in Logan Square, coaching women. She has been undefeated this year under a trio of coaches, including Trinidad Garcia, the gym's owner. She was supposed to have a match Friday night, but had to cancel because of her injury, he said.
"It takes a special kind of person to be able to do what she did," Garcia said. "I know many fighters, mostly men, that wouldn't have been able to do close to what she did. She went all out and I'm very, very proud of her."
While police credited Quinn with fighting off her attackers, they cautioned against fighting back. "We always advise safety over property," Bartoli said.
Garcia, who has a 9-year-old daughter, agreed and spoke with his child after she said she'd fight back like Quinn did.
"I said, 'No, you would run first.' And if Claire didn't get thrown to the ground with the guy immediately lunging at her, I would say she should've run first, too," Garcia said. "You run and you live to run another day. But that's not what happened, she was stuck there on the ground and I think it was her natural reaction to go full force. I'm glad she did and thank God she had the tools she needed to succeed — she's so physically strong."
Even before the attack, Quinn was planning to help launch a free 12-week program called the FightHer Project, which should be offered next year at the gym's second location and will be aimed at 13- to 17-year-old girls interested in boxing, with the overall goal of empowering women.
Even with her training, Quinn said the attack was traumatic and she keeps replaying it in her mind, most often as she tries to fall asleep. But it doesn't change how she feels about her adopted home.
"Chicago is stuck with me," she said.