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Enjoy Magazine

Fighting Chance

03/19/2013 12:04PM ● By anonymous

Psycho Fitness and MMA Owner Avery Vilche

Avery Vilche was the little girl who could keep up with her brothers in boxing matches. Growing up in Red Bluff, she loved sparring with them in the front yard.

Now 42, she is the owner of Psycho Fitness and MMA in her hometown, and a gold medal winner in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. She’s also a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter.

At 5’2”, she’s still little, but she’s fierce in a momma bear sort of way. By day she works with county mental health clients. “I try to get them back to living again,” she says of the rehab services she provides. In seemingly every hour in between, she’s fitness training herself or others.

She opened Psycho Fitness and MMA in May 2011, simply “to have a place to train and train people to be my sparring partners.”

From front yard boxing, Vilche went on to Chico State, where she became the school’s first female wrestler. A physical education major, she began exploring various sports and found interest in many. While she still loves traditional boxing and kick-boxing, MMA fighting has become her passion. “Cage fighting is the full package,” she says. “It’s everything.”

Her foray into the sport began in 2006 when she went to support Leland Gridley of Red Bluff at a fight at Win-River Casino. “Watching it excited me and I knew I had to try it,” she says. She didn’t simply try it, however; she committed to it as a lifestyle.

“It means training hard and dieting seven days a week,” she says. “It means being in pain a lot, having a lot of injuries. Being hungry. Being tired.”

So why does she do it? “It’s probably the biggest rush anyone could experience,” she says. “Imagine stepping into the cage with someone. It’s like being a Roman gladiator. It’s very raw. It’s very powerful.”

Vilche’s husband, John, not only manages the gym and corners her at fights, but “keeps me calm and makes sure I have healthy food and lots of it,” she says.

“She loves to hit stuff,” says Manton resident and comedian Liz Merry. “That’s what she does and she’s good at it.” Merry has trained with Vilche and traveled with her to Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2008 to videotape her participation in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

While she notes that Vilche is very good at modifying exercises for injuries and fitness levels when she’s training people, she adds, “If you don’t look like you’re dying, she will come over and push you until you look like you’re dying. And it will make you stronger.”

Parallel to training as an MMA fighter, Vilche also began exploring the heritage of her mother’s people, the Eskimo. While she had made several visits to Alaska throughout her lifetime, she traveled for the first time to compete in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in 2000.

The games reflect native traditions. “All of them are to a survival skill, so if you practice these skills you’ll do much better living in Alaska,” says Merry. The four-man carry, for example, in which Vilche competed, represents the strength needed to travel long distances to bring a whale or walrus home for dinner.

Vilche won gold in the Ear Weight contest. She successfully carried, by ear, 16 one-pound lead ingots the furthest distance without using her cheek for stability. “The reason she won it is because she has cauliflower ears,” says Merry. “There’s so much scar tissue from fighting.”

In addition to understanding the survival skills of the Eskimo, Vilche says, “I’m really into the art right now.” Her uncles are all artists and she is exploring their art as well as creating her own. “I’m really working on getting back to my roots right now,” she says, pointing to the art pieces she’s created for the lobby of her gym.

Last year, after much contemplation, she received the same facial tattoo that her great grandmother had. Two parallel lines travel down her chin. It was a big step, and one that she reflected on carefully, but it is an important part of her personal journey.

Despite the tough outward appearance, Vilche holds a compassion and caring that draw people to her. “People have a certain view of fighters,” she says. “We’re viewed as thugs. I’ve met a lot of fighters, though, and that’s not the case.”

“I pray before a fight and I pray for my opponent’s safety,” she adds. Fighting is part of her spiritual journey, of which she is incredibly serious. “I’m compelled to until I’m done with this journey and I’m not done yet.”

Psycho Fitness and MMA 1450 Schwab St., Red Bluff • (530) 200-0526