CMS and P-P alumni take their experiences from the athletic fields to the job field

Firefighting and water polo or cardiology and softball have little in common at first glance. But for these student-athlete alumni of the Claremont Colleges, their professional lives frequently borrow many of the lessons learned in their time on a team. 

How a fire captain found his spark at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps

A man in a red track and field uniform releases a throw.
Quang Leba CM ’97 was on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps track and field and water polo teams. (Courtesy: Quang Leba)

Quang Leba’s CM ’97 athlete’s mentality on the CMS water polo and track and field teams prepared him for his position today as a fire captain for the Rancho Cucamonga Fire District.

But when he graduated in 1997, he didn’t know it yet.

Out of college, Leba worked for Kaiser Permanente, a California healthcare company, for eight years, moving around three departments. It was then that he volunteered with a local volunteer fire department.

“Just to help out the community, I thought I’d give it a try and try something new. And I fell in love with it,” he said.

By age 28, Leba was entertaining the idea of becoming a firefighter, and he was hired as a professional firefighter just two years later.

A smiling man in a firefighter's formal uniform stands in front of the U.S. flag
Quang Leba CM ’97 is a fire captain for the Rancho Cucamonga Fire District. (Courtesy: Quang Leba)

“When they asked me why I wanted to be a firefighter at my interview, I told them that at Claremont McKenna College, never did I work, study, laugh and play as hard as I did in a team environment,” he said. “I believed that the fire service would be able to duplicate that experience, and that’s why I was sitting there in front of the panel, looking for a firefighter job.”

Leba’s job in the fire service is intensely physically demanding, much like the sports he played at CMC. Since his days are different every day, he has to be adaptable to his changing schedule, something he said was unique to his time as a collegiate athlete. 

“Playing sports and going to college reinforced what I valued most, and that’s to work in a team environment, to make a positive difference, to do things that I never thought I could do and to work hard and [see] your efforts come to fruition,” Leba said.

Though a fire crew and a water polo or track and field team may have completely different day-to-day schedules, Leba said there’s little core difference: “You’ve got to be ready with a positive attitude and a smile and [be] there next to your brothers and sisters.”

A heart for Pomona-Pitzer softball keeps a cardiologist clear headed

A softball catcher in full gear prepares to throw a softball.
Ali Corley PO ’11 captained the Pomona-Pitzer softball team for two years. (Courtesy: Ali Corley)

Ali Corley PO ’11 was a catcher for four years on the P-P softball team — a team she also captained for two years. Currently a cardiology fellow at Duke University, she said her years as a Sagehen are inextricable from her time in medicine.

As an athlete and a captain, Corley said her “biggest lesson” was learning how to unite an infinitely different group of people around “one common goal.”

“On a softball field, you have a mixture of different people … and everyone has one goal: It’s winning a game. It’s playing well. It’s hitting the ball,” Corley said. “Trying to figure out how to work well together, trying to figure out what motivates each individual player … is almost like a psychology of teamwork.”

Now, her time on the field still echoes out into her life in healthcare.

A young woman with long brown hair and a white doctor's coat smiles at the camera.
Ali Corley PO ’11 is a cardiology fellow at Duke University. (Courtesy: Ali Corley)

“Things like being a good team worker is incredibly important in any aspect of life, and medicine is no exception,” Corley said. “You also work with a diverse set of team members of different skill sets and different backgrounds, and the end goal is patient care. When you log into the hospital, your goal should be … providing the best care possible for patients. That’s teamwork.”

And, Corley said, the pressure of being at bat is what gives her the ability to quiet her mind and keeps a procedure like a cardiac catheterization from becoming too stressful.

“There are times when I think my hands would be shaking, and I’m able to steel my hands and do what I need to do to take care of a patient,” she said. “Or when there’s chaos in a patient’s room … having the ability to speak loudly, to commandeer the room and think through what needs to happen to get the patient better — I wonder if all of those things would be harder  without having been an athlete.”

Today, Corley and Leba still stay in shape in other ways after graduating from their respective teams. Corley plays for her hospital department slow pitch team, where they just had their playoff games last week, and Leba mountain bikes while supporting his three active daughters, all soccer players.

Twenty-three years since his graduation, Leba still keeps the lessons of his CMS days fresh.

“There’s always a learning opportunity, no matter how small the task.”

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