Thousand Dollar Baby: By day Jamie O'Hare studies for a master's in social work. Her night job is anything but.

At 5 a.m. on March 7, Jamie O'Hare clambers out of bed and spits into a cup. She spits en route to an interview with KFNS 590 AM (the Fan) and again on the way to her gym. There O'Hare mounts an exercise bike — inside a sauna. She pedals away on an empty stomach, forgoing even an ice cube. And she spits some more.

The 25-year-old social-worker-in-training — and St. Louis' only professional female boxer — is wrapping up a two-month stint during which she consumed protein and green vegetables exclusively, and only 1,000 calories per day. Later this afternoon she'll have to weigh in at 147 pounds for her second pro bout. She figures she still has three pounds of water weight to go. She spits and spits and spits.

Typically a chatterbox, by early afternoon the Florissant native is not up for much conversation. "My mouth is bone-dry," she moans, having filled a twelve-ounce cup with saliva.

Jennifer Silverberg
O'Hare in the zone, getting her wrists taped by Jose Ponce pre-fight.
Eric Fogleman
O'Hare in the zone, getting her wrists taped by Jose Ponce pre-fight.

O'Hare will graduate from Saint Louis University in May with a master's degree in social work. A graduate assistant in the School of Public Health there, she also interns as a victims' advocate for sexual-assault and robbery cases at the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office. Six days a week of boxing training complete her hectic schedule but do little to dampen her vivaciousness.

"Jamie has what I call infectious charisma," observes Malika Poindexter, O'Hare's boss at the prosecutor's office. "Sometimes I get tired just hearing about her day, and I think: 'How do you fit all that in, and still stay so bouncy?'"

O'Hare is the kind of girl who likes to stretch and hydrate before an alcohol-free Saturday night of club dancing and then be one of the first to arrive at church the following morning. She is a collector of Norman Rockwell prints, and a germaphobe with a weak stomach. When her boxing sponsors, former St. Louis Blues hockey enforcer Reed Low and his wife, Dena, recently regaled O'Hare's family and friends with a gory story of Low's recuperation from a broken jaw, she had to walk away.

Hazelwood Central High School students will remember her as the Class of 2000's homecoming queen. These days, with her steely green eyes, buoyant mahogany mane and freckles, O'Hare looks to have stepped off a page of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue circa Kathy Ireland.

"I get so sick of hearing, 'Oh God, you're dating a boxer! Does she kick your ass all the time?'" reports O'Hare's boyfriend, Dave Grieshaber. (No slouch himself, Grieshaber once modeled in Cosmopolitan.) "No, she doesn't," he adds. "She's a really sweet person with a huge heart."

In sum: not exactly someone most of us would picture enjoying a good noggin clobbering.

But from ringside O'Hare has the look of a natural. At five-ten, she's taller and longer-limbed than many of her opponents. And ripped. She'll have nothing to do with the baby-pink gloves that are all the rage among women fighters — which might have something to do with the fact that she trains with a team full of men.

When her turn came for the team's rite of passage, known as "The Shoe," O'Hare stepped right up and chugged a repulsive mix of grass, dirt, wine and tequila from a line cook's old black boot.

"It's hard to gain respect being a female fighter, and Jamie goes about it the right way, with hard work," notes Jesse Finney, proprietor of Finney's Championship Kickboxing & Mixed Martial Arts in Crestwood and O'Hare's longtime coach. "She's got the most potential of any girl I've trained."

Armed with national and international title belts in kickboxing, plus a Golden Gloves belt in amateur boxing, O'Hare went pro in boxing last summer. Her career is just getting underway, and she shows no signs of slowing down. Going into the March 8 contest, she was undefeated in twenty-plus matchups spanning every fighting genre she'd attempted.

No doubt, the hardest part of training for O'Hare is cutting weight. She "walks around," as they say, between 165 and 172 pounds. She has tried dropping vast amounts of weight just before fight time: noshing on nothing but Jolly Ranchers and sour gum for days before the match, and spitting. But the yellow eyes and cramps were unbearable. "Turning pro," she says, "I decided I have to get rid of it as cleanly as possible."

In the week leading up to her March fight, O'Hare is down to egg whites for breakfast and four ounces of chicken for lunch and dinner. One morning she sucks a whole lemon.

The vision of a ten-inch ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen — a post-weigh-in ritual — keeps her going. Especially on March 7.

The scales at Finney's are off this morning. The first has her at 152 — five pounds over. She tries a different scale: 149. After two hours of biking in the sauna, O'Hare is at 147.2. Still not good enough.

Then a state official shows up with the actual weigh-in scale. The official verdict: 149.8.

Back to the sauna she goes, with spit cup.

Amid the hubbub, O'Hare's 37-year-old opponent arrives from Atlanta. Weary and bleary-eyed, O'Hare takes one look at the dark-complected Carrine Hamlett and thinks she's staring at Lucia Rijker, the two-time world champion — undefeated in 54 fights — who trained Hilary Swank for her Academy Award–winning role in Million Dollar Baby.

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