By Una L. Morris-Chong
Radiologist at Women’s Diagnostic Imaging Medical Group
Olympian – 1964, 1968, 1972
Alumna of Cal Poly Pomona
My early life in Kingston, Jamaica was poor in money but richly blessed in the support and love of family, especially my mother.
At only ten years old, I lost my mother to illness. It was the most tragic and defining moment of my life. My mother knew the life-changing power of that moment because she asked me to promise I would pursue education to the fullest. I have kept that promise with a bachelor’s degree, a medical degree and a diagnostic radiology specialization. I’m not done learning yet, and have committed to pursuing a law degree.
The ability to focus, once acquired, is an amazing asset in life. My focus was sadly borne of loss, yet many people find focus in their own way – often through pursuing a passion and exercising personal discipline.
At a young age, I learned that I had skill and a passion for two things: learning and running. A sharp focus on learning brought me to Cal Poly Pomona to start my higher education. A sharp focus on running brought me to three Summer Olympic Games – in 1964, 1968 and 1972 – as an athlete representing Jamaica.
Balancing two demanding passions is not an easy thing. Sacrifice is a given. I enjoyed dancing as a college student but rarely had the opportunity to go out. I spent most of my time studying or running, and occasionally doing both at the same time. I felt uncomfortable at a party if I knew work was still to be done or a lesson left to be learned.
I found Cal Poly Pomona to be supportive of both passions, and an amazing place to expand my knowledge of the world. Since I understood the loss caused by illness, I was drawn to the medical profession. A Cal Poly Pomona degree in zoology opened the door I needed. The zoology bachelor’s degree allowed me to work with animals, which I enjoyed, but also counted as medically-related as required by medical schools.
I can’t say that my passions always got along. After starting medical school at UC San Francisco, I was debating whether to continue my pursuit of a third Olympics. I eventually decided to stick with my Olympic dreams and do whatever was necessary, without a coach, to qualify.
Whatever was necessary turned out to mean warming up with note cards in hand, running between classes and my clerkship, and filling every available space in my waking day with training – either physical or mental.
Then the day came when I was late for my clerkship. The doctor supervising me asked why and I explained that I was out running in preparation for the Olympics. Concern that I could not balance both led to a meeting with the dean of medicine at UCSF. He offered to allow me to take a light load that year and graduate later than my fellow students. I thanked the dean for the offer, and promptly went on to maintain a full class load, graduate on time and qualify for the 1972 Olympic team.
Nearly 40 years have passed since that decision. I cannot say that I regret any of the sacrifices I made to maintain my focus. Now with a loving family of my own, as well as a medical practice, I know the rewards that focus and dedication bring. I look forward to the next adventure – perhaps mentoring young students who start with little more than a dream and willingness to work.
Using my life as an example, I hope to show that a goal and the willingness to set aside momentary interests for that goal are the traits that lead to success.
Note: Morris-Chong is additionally featured in the “Working for California” project that celebrates CSU alumni leaders.