Triathlete helps UCSD students
By Arthur Lightbourn
A former professional triathlete who went on to become a mother of two and a physician when she was 34, Dr. Regina (Gina) Fleming Magit is busy these days running UCSD’s Student Health Service and providing health services to the university’s 29,110 students.
No easy job for sure, but one that the 49-year-old public health/preventive medicine specialist relishes with the same determination and enthusiasm that powered her athletic career.
We interviewed Fleming Magit poolside at her home in Carmel Valley after a full day’s work on the UCSD campus and just before she was about to rush off to try out for a 7 p.m. audition with local choir.
Yes, that’s another one of her passions, singing, wherever and whenever she can — and, with her family, attending music festivals, such as the Fuji in Japan a few years ago, the Lollapalooza recently in Chicago, and the Coachella Valley Festival in Indio, which she attended last weekend for the fifth time.
Fleming Magit, known to her friends as ‘Gina,’ is tall and lean, as you might expect of an athlete of her caliber. Brown eyes. Brown shoulder length hair. Little or no makeup. And modest to boot. (“There are so many other people you should be interviewing rather than me, like my boss, or my husband. He’s very interesting,” she said earlier on the phone when she tried to bow out of being interviewed. “I don’t like the me-me-me stuff.”)
Fleming Magit was born in 1960 in La Jolla on Prospect Street where Scripps Hospital was then located. She was the youngest of four sisters in a family of five children.
Her dad was a bookkeeper and her mom was the head of public relations for the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art for many years and later a professional free-lance editor and writer.
She and her sisters were the first in their family to go to college.
Because she could not afford a car, she relied on a bike for her transportation until she was 23.
“And because of the bike thing,” she said, “I got really into cycling. I did a trip down the coast when I was 18 or 19 from Oregon to San Diego with a couple of friends as a fundraiser for the Greenpeace Foundation. And the following year, I cycled from Oregon to Boston by myself again for Greenpeace.
“And I decided since this bike thing is pretty fun, I think I’ll try to run too. I did the Ironman in 1982.”
In 1983, she won the World’s Toughest Triathlon (Lake Tahoe); in 1984, placed third in the Heart of San Diego Marathon; and in 1999 competed in the Boston Marathon.
Today, despite an arthritic left knee, she still runs, but not competitively. “And I love to hike and still ride my bike and surf.”
While working on her master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina, she decided, instead of going on for a doctorate in public health, it would take the same amount of time to earn her medical degree in addition to her master’s.
“No one in our family had [financial] support for college. I was self-supporting since I was 16 and put myself through college and graduate school and med school.”
Board certified, she served as a staff physician at El Capitan Family Health Center, San Diego City College Health Services, and the Linda Vista Community Clinic, before joining UCSD’s student health center as director in 2004.
“The thing I love about student health is that we are at this critical time where young people are making important decisions about their lifestyle and how to live a healthy, well-balanced life. Patterns aren’t so deeply entrenched that they can’t be changed at this point and improved upon.
“So it’s a very good time to establish good preventive health behaviors: getting sleep, getting some exercise, taking time to de-stress, eating a healthy, varied diet, limiting alcohol, all those kind of things we all know, but you get to a certain age, the longer it goes, the harder it can become to change behavior. The habits and norms they establish now can really make a difference down the road.”
She left her work at UCSD for eight months in 2007-08 to help her teenage son, Jake, through a bout with lymphoma cancer, successfully combated into remission with chemo and radiation. He is now a sophomore at UC Davis.
Stretching out of her comfort zone is part of her philosophy. It was the intent of long-distance bike trips for Greenpeace when she was younger and even going to medical school, she said.
Her next “out-of-comfort-zone” venture will come in June and July when she will serve as a medical volunteer aboard the USS Mercy hospital ship on a humanitarian mission to Cambodia.
“I’m a little nervous about it,” she admitted. “I’m not going to lie. But it will be a way to celebrate my 50th birthday.”