Gina Engel's life has been an intriguing journey.
A native of Romania, she was adopted as a 2-month-old by Steve and Linda Engel of Brainerd. She was a student in the Brainerd school system until several years ago when her family moved to Park City, Utah.
In Utah, she became a member of an elite Alpine skiing program. She attended a school of about 60 students who were seriously pursuing a career in sports. She went to school from April to November. From November to April students trained and competed in their sport.
While in Utah she suffered four concussions and serious injuries to both knees, requiring surgery and about a year to recuperate from each. She sat out the last two skiing seasons before her family returned to Brainerd for this school year.
"The racing level out there ... I didn't want to be in a wheelchair at the age of 30," she said.
Back in Brainerd, Engel reacquainted herself with friends she competed with on the Ski Gull Alpine team and skied for the Warriors' Alpine team this winter. She won three regular-season races, finished third in the Section 5 meet, qualified for state and helped Brainerd win the section title.
"What she has brought to our team is someone who can win races," Warriors coach Jim Ruttger said. "If she skis well consistently she's probably be on the podium.
"Every team needs that kind of skier. We have a history of having some good kids in those 5-10 positions. Sometimes we have a hard time getting kids in the top 3-4. She's one we can pretty much count on to be in that (3-4) group."
Sport: Alpine skiing
Weight: 113 pounds
Other sports: Softball
Career highlight: Qualifying for state meet
Favorite subject: Economics
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite TV show: Grey's Anatomy
Hobbies: Staying active, being with family and friends
Future plans: Attend CLC work on law enforcement degree
Athlete she admires: Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn
Parents: Steve and Linda and Engel
Engel completed her two section runs at Afton Alps with a time of 1:01.8.
"The first run on race day I skied conservatively, and got the third-best time," she said. "I just wanted to make it down, make a strong run for the team. I knew if I fell I would let the team down in a big way. I definitely didn't want to do that.
"Then I had a great lunch. On the second run I went out, did my thing and finished third. I was pretty excited."
Ruttger said the experience Engel received in Utah made her a skier to reckon with.
"The speed events, just the whole experience in those kind of venues, made her a gutsy skier," he said. "She's not afraid to let it go, make it her best run. She's not afraid of speed, obviously."
Engel has skied at Giants Ridge, site of the state meet, since she started the sport.
"I'm pretty confident about Giants Ridge," she said. "In Park City we skied on a lot more terrain. I don't want to say Giants Ridge is not difficult, I'm just comfortable with that hill."
Ruttger believes Engel has a shot to eclipse Katie Majka's seventh-place finish at state, the program's highest.
"I would expect she could do as well as Katie Majka did," he said. "She's certainly capable of achieving that mark."
Other notable efforts:
• Hannah McAllister (fifth in section), Pat Mangan (11th) and Amanda Finstad (13th), Nordic skiing, qualified for state.
• Samantha Smith (2nd in conference), Shana Lingwall and Becky Walker (tie for 4th), Olivia Elsenpeter (23rd) and Kelsi Ring, gymnastics, earned All-CLC honors.
• Ethan Rudbeck, floor hockey, had a hat trick against White Bear Lake.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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