GOHS graduate, Miss Albania visits campus, city

Great Oak High School alumni and 2019 Miss Universe Albania Cindy Marina speaks to GOHS students about what she has learned from her recent successes, Nov. 12. Shane Gibson photo

For Miss Albania Cindy Marina, a daylong visit to Temecula was one for reflection and an expression of gratitude for the city in which she spent most of her life.

“I’ve been in the community for most of my life now, so, to come back and receive this award really means a lot to me,” Marina told the Temecula City Council after she was handed a certificate of recognition by Temecula Mayor Pro Tem James “Stew” Stewart Tuesday evening. “This has been such a huge accomplishment in my life so far. Being able to represent the country that my parents grew up in and the Albanian blood that I have in me means so much to me. Also, to be able to represent Temecula and give back to the community now that I have the opportunity and the platform to do so is something that I look forward to continuing to do.”

As Miss Albania, Marina will compete at the Miss Universe pageant at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta in December. The competition will be broadcast live on FOX.

Marina, who was a high school All-American and California Gatorade Player of the Year nominee as a volleyball player at Great Oak, accepted a scholarship to Duke University before transferring to the University of Southern California in 2017.

Marina started the day at Great Oak High School to speak to a room full of students about her journey and accomplishments since leaving the school a few years ago.

“It felt amazing to be a student here for four years and then go on the journey that I’ve been on in college, with the Albanian national team, with my college teams, with Miss Universe,” she said. “And then to be able to come back and share that experience with other young athletes that were here, and other young people to just tell them what I’ve been through. Because sometimes it seems really far away when you hear about these stories or what you hear about people having whatever successes they have. But to know I was sitting where they sat one day and I went through the same classrooms, the same hallways I think can be just a good testament to what they can do and what they can achieve as well.”

Great Oak principal Aimee Ricken said she was happy to have Marina for a visit.

“Having Cindy here today, we’re just proud of how much she’s accomplished,” Ricken said. “I think she said it best that it’s the hard work that she’s put in, that she’s smart and beautiful and has taken advantage of the opportunities and the risks have really paid off for her. And we’re just super proud of her on behalf of Great Oak High School and what she’s accomplished and we wish her all the best at the Miss Universe pageant.”

Marina told the students to cherish the time they have in high school and when they move on into the world.

“This is my last year, it flies by you guys, it goes so fast,” Marina said. “So truly, I know everyone says this, but I enjoy every moment because those are some of the best years of your life. Yeah, it was hard. But I also had some amazing times and I learned so much. I learned what it means to fail. I learned what it means to succeed. And in between, I learned so many valuable lessons.”

Cindy Marina’s mother, Kristina Marina, said she is proud of her daughter and what she’s accomplished so far.

“Well for me, to follow in this journey has been a dream come true as a mother,” Kristina Marina said. “I come from a family of athletes, and I tried to give them to my kids. I think sports have given me so much in my life, and I do believe that sports today gave to the kids and the future generation is an amazing way for them to be focused, to be strong, to be powerful, to feel that they can do everything they can to challenge themselves. How they can have success or how they can overcome that challenge is amazing.

“This is a dream come true for me and all the sacrifices have paid off,” Kristina Marina said.

Before heading to Temecula City Hall in the evening, Marina also visited with all the players of Forza1 Volleyball Club, which is where she played her club volleyball and is a second home to her as her family owns the club.

“Yeah, I mean this is great,” Marina said. “It’s great to be home. Like I said, it’s great to speak to people who I was once in their shoes. It means a lot to me to – I don’t want to say give back – because it’s just speaking. But just to kind of give my story back to my community where I grew up because I think it’s exciting to see people in your community be successful and do something that they love or achieve some great goals.

“So, I think for me that was really amazing,” Cindy Marina said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.