Monday, July 5, 1999

Island Inspiration


By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Businessman Michael Chung relaxes at home with his dog
Lou and his nurse caregiver, Marilou Quitoles, who is sitting
in one of the portable chairs that Chung markets.

Local man rises
above accident

Quadriplegic Michael Chung
succeeds with a work ethic instilled
by his father and athletics

By Rod Ohira


Within Michael Chung's broken body, the spirit of a warrior lives.

Chung, 39, has been unable to move his arms and legs since a tractor-trailer rig slammed into his Volkswagen 14 years ago, but it hasn't stopped the former Aiea High and University of Hawaii pitcher from leading a productive life.

"I've got no complaints," Chung said. "There are countless numbers of people in worse life situations than myself."

Through hard work and perseverance, he became an overachieving athlete. His approach to the physical challenges of his life is the same.

"From the accident until now, I know it's always going to be a tough day, both physically and mentally," he said. "But all the hard work I put into baseball has taught me I can survive mentally as long as I give it my best effort.

"After 14 years, my body is getting stiffer and there's more physical pain. But I just try to block it out, like I did in baseball."

Chung, Hawaii dealer for Ortho Seat, a back-support device, is working on a marketing plan to expand his business.

"He's an inspiration for a lot of people," UH baseball coach Les Murakami said. "I've never seen him anything but upbeat and positive."

Time has tempered Chung's anger and bitterness about the accident, allowing him to go back to his athletic past and recall experiences he uses to his advantage today.

"It's more of an acceptance now, he understands what has happened and has learned to deal with the situation," said Baldwin High baseball coach Kahai Shishido, Chung's friend and former UH teammate. "He's very intelligent and articulate. Persevere is something he's had to do all his (athletic) life.

"To attain levels of competition far beyond what was expected of him took hard work, dedication and discipline."

When he failed to make the Aiea junior varsity baseball team in his freshman year, Chung returned home and angrily threw his glove and shoes onto the roof.

The late Harry Y.H. Chung took the youngest of his three children aside that day, ordered him to retrieve the equipment and gave him a rule to follow in life.

"My dad told me to keep fighting and never quit," Chung said.

Chung made the junior varsity team the next year and went on to pitch two seasons for the varsity.

Perseverance pays off

At the end of his junior season, teammate Lance Yafuso taught him the value of hard work by encouraging Chung to run with him daily from September until January.

"On the first day, I walked three-quarters of the way because it was all uphill," Chung said. "By December, I could do the whole route."

The extra work paid off.

Chung earned OIA All-West honors in his senior season and pitched a no-hitter against Moanalua.

Chung tried out for the UH team as a walk-on the following year and was cut.

"I spent more time warming up and catching pitchers than throwing from the mound," he recalled. "I felt like a gofer and developed a bad attitude.

"My evaluation read 'No Division I college talent and bad attitude.' Coach Les just told me everyone can improve and thanked me for coming out."

Chung tried out again the next year although most of the pitchers from Hawaii's 1980 College World Series were returning.

He made the team but was used sparingly.

It was during his junior season in 1982 that Chung's perseverance was defined.

Defining moment

"I had a bad Fall League so they cut me to the JV," he said. "But I threw batting practice for the whole varsity team before every (home) game and pitched 21 scoreless innings for the JV before they finally pulled me up."

Chung had to wait until his final season to become a pitcher of record for UH.

"I take my hat off to him"

In earning his only decision as a Rainbow, Chung recorded seven outs in pitching scoreless relief as UH rallied for a 16-15 road victory over the University of San Diego.

"Michael Chung had only so much talent but worked hard," Murakami said. "That's why he's one of my favorites. When he got hurt, I was devastated. He had so much going for him in life.

"But everything went against him. He got hurt, lost his father and then his mother. I don't think I could endure what he did and be as positive as he is. That's why I take my hat off to him."

Chung graduated with a degree in travel industry management and in January 1985, he began working for GTE Hawaiian Tel selling pagers.

The accident occurred May 16, 1985, two days after his 25th birthday, on Kamehameha Highway and Pali Momi Street.

A passenger in the car escaped serious injury but the impact snapped Chung's neck, causing spinal-cord injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic.

He spent two months in the hospital and five months in rehabilitation before being discharged in December 1985.

"There was a time when I just laid in bed," he said. "I'd get so depressed thinking about what my friends were doing or what I could have been doing.

"I would open my eyes and think only about another day of being paralyzed."

Begins comeback

Things started turning around in 1988 when Chung got a computer equipped with a mouse he could control with a headset.

"To click, I'd have to blow into a tube," he said. "Now, it's all voice recognition.

"The computer allowed me to put my thoughts down to paper, like a journal, and I tried to be more positive. That year, I also got a van so I could go out more."

When his mother, Mabel Chung, died in 1995, it left a void in Michael's life but made him appreciate family.

"I was lucky that she was a housewife and at home for me every day," he said. "And I had a father that took me anywhere I needed to go.

"With that kind of family unit, I was able to become the kind of person who could handle experiences when I needed to come back, like getting cut from baseball."

Within the past three years, Chung has tightened his relationship with his sister, Harrilyn Green of San Francisco, and brother, Steven, through their children.

"What kept me going in baseball was my love for the game," he said. "I talk to my niece and nephew a lot about giving 100 percent effort because if you always give your best effort, you'll be able to take on whatever challenges arise in life."

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