From Wisconsin to Whitman: Tennis Whiz
Turns Next to Baylor College of Medicine

News Release Date:
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The American landscape was long ago fractured by a spidery network of high-speed highways and freeways, but it was one of the roads less traveled that brought aspiring physician and tennis whiz Christoph Fuchs to Whitman College.

There is nothing run-of-the-mill nor conventional about the travels, literal or figurative, that brought Fuchs to campus. There are no public magnet schools or private prep academies in his background. He didn't finish at or near the top of his high school class. In fact, there are no high schools of any kind on his resume.

     Christoph Fuchs

And there was that long family odyssey that touched the four corners of the country – the one capped by the side trip to Germany – but more about that later.

What’s more important is that once Fuchs arrived on campus, there was no question he had found a happy second home.

Now, after four years of success in the classroom and on the tennis courts, Fuchs graduates in a few weeks – a Phi Beta Kappa ring on his finger – and heads to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

But before he departs for the Lone Star State, Fuchs and his tennis teammates will make their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Division III national championship tournament.

Whitman, ranked No. 22 nationally in the latest rankings, plays a first-round match Thursday against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in Claremont, Calif. 

Win or lose later this week, Fuchs and his six senior teammates can look back on four years of unmatched tennis success. They picked off three Northwest Conference championships during their tenure while posting a 64-0 regular season record against conference opponents.  

Fuchs held up his side of the court, winning more than 100 career matches in singles and doubles. A year ago, he was voted to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-America team (voting for this year’s team has yet to take place).

           Christoph Fuchs: Knack for keeping eye on ball

For Fuchs, the long, winding road to Whitman began in November of 1996.

He was nine years old at the time, the eldest of four children, when his family pulled up stakes in Wausau, Wisc., and hit the road for a year-long family excursion.

His father, Dr. Axel Fuchs, was in private practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist and “working all the time,” he says. “My dad and mom (Valerie) decided they wanted to leave Wausau and travel around the around the country. It was a great opportunity to spend time together as a family and find a new place to live.”

From the backroads of the Badger State, the family climbed into a GMC Suburban – a 39-foot travel trailer hitched to the back -- and headed south.

“We worked our way down to Florida, stopping to spend some time in Louisville, Ken., with mom’s family,” Fuchs says. “We spent the winter in Florida and saw everything from Sea World to crocodile farms to orange groves. We must have visited the Kennedy Space Center a dozen times.”

Part of the family’s year-long traveling plan was that Valerie Fuchs, a graduate of Ohio’s Miami University, would start home-schooling her children.

                 Axel & Valerie Fuchs

“After Florida, we slowly worked our way west to Arizona. We spent some time in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, which was quite an experience.

“We spent about three months in Arizona on a Navajo Indian Reservation, where my dad worked in a hospital. As a family, we learned a lot about the Navajo culture. We spent a lot of time exploring the canyons and the 12th century Anasazi civilization ruins.”

After a summer in the Portland-Vancouver area, the Fuchs family headed to Germany to visit the other side of the family.

Dr. Fuchs, a graduate of the medical school at Germany’s University of Dusseldorf, had come to the U.S. as a young man, recruited to help with breast cancer research at the University of Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center.

The family returned to the states in January of 1998 and settled in the Vancouver area.

“My parents bought a home in the country half an hour north of Portland. Because homeschooling was working well for us, we decided to continue rather than commuting to Portland,” Fuchs says. “Most of the time we worked through a correspondence program taking honors classes in which a teacher/evaluator sent us lesson plans and graded our work.”

“Mom kept us focused and helped teach us the material. She made a huge time commitment to us, and did a wonderful job with our early education. Dad helped at times, especially with the sciences, but he was also working as a doctor.”

Every situation has its trade-offs, says Fuchs, and his home schooling was no exception.

“It helped me in a lot of ways,” Fuchs says. “I think I matured at a young age. I learned a lot about self-motivation, time management, planning and following through.

“On the other hand, there was part of me that always thought about going to a regular school. Later on, from a social standpoint, college was a greater adjustment for me because I didn’t have as much in common with students who spent their entire lives in public or private schools.”

               Christoph Fuchs

Soon after family took root outside of La Center, a small town near Vancouver, his mom “signed us up for various athletic programs so we could find a sport we liked and meet other kids,” Fuchs says.

“One thing led to another and before long we were playing in a lot of junior tournaments and training in the afternoons at a tennis academy in Portland.”

Sisters Stephanie and Sabine took to tennis just as seriously and later followed their older brother into the ranks of collegiate tennis. Sabine, just now finishing her first season at University of Oregon, plans to transfer to the University of Portland to play alongside Stephanie, who starts her senior year in the fall.

Younger brother Markus, now 17, settled on crew as his favorite sport and is focused at the moment on continuing his education at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Fuchs started his undergraduate studies at the University of Portland, hoping to play NCAA Division I tennis, but an “injury pretty much killed any chance I had to make that team.”

At about the same time, Whitman tennis coach Jeff Northam made a recruiting call to the Fuchs home. “Jeff didn’t realize I was already in college. I was young for a college freshman, and because I didn’t play high school tennis, he could only look at my results from the junior tournaments.

After a visit to Walla Walla, “I decided to transfer to Whitman, which is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life to this point,” Fuchs says.

“Whitman has been perfect for me,” he adds. “It’s been great having a coach like Jeff who understands and really supports the academic as well as the athletic side of what a student athlete goes through. You don’t get that at a lot of Division I schools.”

Fuchs also praises the “family atmosphere” that Northam has engendered in his 16 years at the helm of his alma mater’s tennis program.

“Jeff hosts barbecues and pumpkin carvings at his house. There are team dinners and movie nights. Coach has had such a huge impact that our team culture is now so strong that it seems to have a life of its own.”

While Fuchs has been a four-year regular in the Whitman line-up, he appreciates the “great lengths” to which Northam has gone to keep his large roster engaged. “Jeff arranges a lot of split-squad matches to give everyone the chance to play. This spring he drove all the way to and from Los Angeles so the entire team could go.”

                Christoph Fuchs: Early interest in reading

Fuchs, a biology major (chemistry minor), notes that Whitman faculty have been just as supportive.

Some of his best Whitman memories include “studying late into the night in the Science Building, and having Dr. Tom Knight selflessly spend several hours at a time answering questions and explaining points in great detail.”

There is no question that Whitman’s science program does a superb job preparing students for the medical school admission test (MCAT) and for the rigors that follow in medical school, Fuchs says.

“As a transfer student, I can attest to the significantly higher level of difficulty of the classes at Whitman, and I can vouch for a Whitman faculty that goes the extra mile to help you meet and exceed their ambitious expectations.

“When I interviewed at some of the top medical schools in the country, I felt as well prepared as the students from Harvard, Yale and Stanford.”

Fuchs also leaves Whitman as a big believer in its entire liberal arts program.

“Science majors complain at times about having to take so many non-science classes, but the humanities classes at Whitman have honed my critical thinking, reading and writing skills,” he says. “I owe a lot to professors Irvin Hashimoto and Jim Hanson for challenging me to sharpen my writing and public speaking skills.”

While at Whitman, Fuchs also took advantage of learning experiences outside the classroom.

After his sophomore year, he traveled to Germany and worked more than 200 hours as a nurse’s aide in hospital in Offenburg. His work that summer ranged from basic patient care to making rounds with doctors and observing surgeries.

Fuchs congratulates teammate Jeff Tolman

The next summer, he received Whitman Undergraduate Research funding to work on breast cancer research at the University of Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center, the same institution that brought his father to the U.S. decades earlier. His research that summer was the basis of his honors thesis on estrogen receptor protein modifications.

While Fuchs could have completed his Whitman degree a year ago, he opted to leave credits unfulfilled until this spring. He stayed in Walla Walla last fall but didn’t resume his Whitman classes until this semester.

“I really wanted to be here for a fourth season with the tennis team,” he says. “There wasn’t much left to do on my degree, but it was good to have more time to work on my medical school applications and interviews. That whole process takes a ton of time.”

He’s also kept busy this year as a tutor at Walla Walla Community College and as a volunteer at a local AIDS clinic and with a program that mentors disadvantaged youth.

While Fuchs looks forward to start of his medical school studies, he shies away from pinpointing a specialty. “Based on what I know now and the doctors I’ve shadowed, I have an interest in orthopedic surgery, but I also know that I’ll be exposed to dozens of possibilities in medical school,” he says.

“What’s exciting for me at this point is that I was accepted at the Baylor College of Medicine. It’s part of the Texas Medical Center, which is basically the largest medical complex in the world.”

With years of medical studies stretched before him, Fuchs relishes the time he has left to spend with his two tennis families.

“My sisters and I have played tennis together for such a long time, and we still play whenever we can,” he says.

“Once I came to Whitman, the tennis team became family. Those of us graduating this spring don’t have much time left. While we’re all going to miss each other and Whitman, we will always treasure the memories we formed together.” 

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.; (509) 527-5902