Successful humans who’ve achieved much in the first 25 years of their life fascinate me, and I delve into the variables that have contributed to their flourishing lives. My investigative journey into the life of Cindy Marina began with a quick phone call to famous New York photographer, Fadil Berisha. His lightning response to me about Cindy was:
“USC star volleyball athlete. Miss Universe Albania. Top 20 finalist. Incredible parents. Dynamic L.A. woman.”
My next investigative step was to approach one of Cindy’s high school volleyball teammates, Olyvia Chaltas, from Great Oak High School in Temecula. Here was Olyvia’s immediate response to my question about fer friend.
“Where do I even begin,” she says with a broad smile. “It’s hard to put into words how and why I can adore someone so much. I think it’s important to take a step back and first appreciate Cindy’s parents and family because they make up a big part of who she is. Her parents, Ardian and Kristina, represent the true American dream. They immigrated to America and started not only their family, but a shipping business once they had saved up enough to invest in their first truck. Since then, they have started a successful volleyball club as well while making their home in sunny southern California. They have this innate gift of making anyone they just met feel like they are family. Cindy comes from a fiercely determined and ambitious, yet generous and kind family. All these attributes exist inside her.”
America was founded on the courage and work ethic of highly adaptable, talented immigrants, and the Marina family are that quintessential representation of the fruits that emanate from taking strategically calculated risks. Effort and determination knew no bounds with this talented family.
Olyvia completes the description: “Cindy is genuinely one of the most kind and caring people I have ever met, but beneath this sweet exterior is an extremely competitive and driven individual. She will achieve anything she puts her mind to, and I think that’s why she has been successful in so many different things. You can see this switch turn on once it’s game time, and that’s truly inspiring. My loyal, dependable friend is as beautiful inside as she is on the outside and she lights up any room she steps into.”
Cindy and I sit down for our chat, and within minutes, I am aware of her extensive multi-tasking capabilities. While listening to her matter-of-fact description of events, I realize that she’s accumulated several ‘wins’ in life in record time spans. When summarizing the last few years, she says
“I played volleyball for USC until 2020. The previous year, I was crowned Miss Universe Albania 2019, and I was supposed to travel to pass on the successor’s crown to the next winner of the title. Then the pandemic shut down the world in 2020, which was my graduation year from USC, and the next thing, I was offered a television broadcasting position in Europe. I decided that it was a great opportunity and accepted the position immediately.”
She supplies the details of her broadcasting job:
“I work pitch side at the soccer stadiums in Italy and we broadcast live from the stadium. I’m also a co-presenter in another show in Albania, and that’s an investigative journalism show.”
We turn the clock back to Cindy’s roots. She was born in Chicago in 1998 to two athletically gifted parents. She was also named after super model Cindy Crawford. I ask for the story surrounding that choice.
“Cindy was THE super model of the time when I was born, and my parents really admired her because she was the all-American girl. That image was part of their American dream vision. Beyond just her beauty, my mom respected the fact that Cindy was intelligent and grounded. She was much more than just a pretty face.”
Cindy’s mom played professional volleyball in Albania and Italy, and her dad was a collegiate soccer player. The family gene pool didn’t miss a beat when it came to dispersing those athletic talents to Cindy and her two brothers. Cindy’s childhood journey looked like this:
“Originally, figure skating was my big love, and I thought I would probably pursue that professionally, but then we moved to southern California where there weren’t a lot of ice rinks around. I played a lot of sports but once I landed on volleyball, I fell in love with it, and mom was a huge motivator.”
Although sport featured prominently in Cindy’s life, she explains,
“I put my all into the Miss Universe Albania competition. When I won, I discovered that it was a very worthwhile experience. You have to be well spoken, and you are given a global platform to use your voice on topics that really matter.”
“I was also very much a girly girl. I would play dress-up at home with my mom and I loved being feminine. I guess that was one of the reasons I got into modeling so young at age 14. My first modeling campaign was with designer Ema Savahl and I loved it. I’ve always loved beauty and fashion because it’s an art form. In fact, I took art in high school, and we learned so many art forms and how to create depth and light. That all falls within the realm of makeup.”
Life in Temecula was filled with healthy activity. Once she graduated from high school, Cindy obtained a full-ride scholarship to Duke University in North Carolina, but in her sophomore year, she yearned to be closer to home and transferred to a full-ride scholarship at USC.
“California really is this magical place,” she muses. “You have the diversity of the ocean and mountains, and because L.A. is such a melting pot, there are so many interesting and diverse people here. I’m very family oriented – and particularly close to my two brothers – so being back home close to the people I love was important to me. I think that being the children of immigrants also drew our family closer together because we never had an extended family around us, so we formed a very tight family unit here. Beyond that, USC’s volleyball program is also amazing, and I recognize what a privilege it was to be a part of that. I also enjoyed the sorority experience at USC (I was in the same sorority at Duke University) even though volleyball took up so much of my time that I wasn’t able to attend all the events that the sorority offered. Greek life plays a big part at USC and people really want to be a part of it. Even though I wasn’t as integrated into it at USC as some of my sorority sisters, we keep in touch with each other. Recently, one of my sorority sisters started a podcast, and I was invited to participate.”
Cindy makes no mention of her substantial volleyball achievements, so I remind her of them. In her senior year at high school, she was the California nominee for ‘Gatorade Player of the Year’. In her first year at Duke University, her team was named the ‘Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman Team.’ In 2017, while she was only 17 years old, she was chosen to play for the Albanian National Women’s Volleyball team. She was the youngest woman to ever make it onto that team. A year later, in 2018, the team took 3rd place in the ‘Women’s European Volleyball League’ – played in Hungary.
With such a diversely full plate, I ask Cindy how she manages her time.
“I’m organized in the sense that I’m not a procrastinator. When something needs to be done, I get it done as soon as possible. I think the reason I’m able to juggle a lot is that I enjoy everything that I do, and nothing feels like a task. If the enjoyment is there, I’m lucky to be doing it.”
We discuss the soccer fervor in Europe. That’s exactly what Cindy feeds off and she describes it.
“It is so much fun to be in this stadium of soccer fans on game day. You can feel the energy of the fans. It’s like a religion to them. The fans are so loyal to their particular team. That’s why I love my job so much. Talking to the fans before and after the game is one of the highlights.”
Naturally, Cindy is multi-lingual. She speaks English and Albanian fluently, and she’s semi-fluent in Italian.
But California still reigns supremely as far as home is concerned, and Cindy emphasizes how frequently she boards flights to return to the city of angels.
“My older brother has children,” she explains, “and I miss them so much. I always come home for the holidays, and in the summer, I have time off to spend time in California.”
I ask about the Marina family traditions during the holidays.
“USC’s volleyball program is also amazing, and I recognize what a privilege it was to be a part of that.”
“As we get older, it’s harder to get all of us together as we all have so many commitments, so our family really makes the most of our time together at the holidays. On Christmas Eve, we have a long-standing tradition where we have a special dinner – and oftentimes we’ll invite friends over. We only eat fish – no other meat. The day of Christmas, we wake up, open presents, and then have a big family lunch. My mom cooks the most amazing lasagna. She is an incredible cook. New Year’s Eve is also in California.”
We discuss the serious topic of the European continent and the massive changes that have taken place there – particularly in the 1990s. The bloody Kosovo conflict with nearby Serbia occurred in 1998-99 – but Cindy’s parents left Albania before then – in 1991 – after communism – to move to Italy. Their hope was to establish a better life for themselves.
Cindy’s voice tone changes to reflect the severity of what her parents experienced.
“My parents came here from Albania with nothing but their strong work ethic, and that became their motivation to overcome all the obstacles that they faced. They have always instilled in us the importance of knowing our origins. They had lived in a communist country where there was no freedom of choice, and that has made them so grateful for the life they now have here. My brothers and I owe so much to our parents for being so courageous in giving us the life we have.”
On that same topic, Cindy describes our cover shoot photographer, Fadil Berisha.
“Fadil is like the godfather of Albania,” she concludes. “He has such a big heart, and he is always helping others. I only reached out to Fadil in 2019 when I was crowned Miss Universe Albania. He used to be the director of the pageant, and from thereon, I started to work with him. Beyond being a talented artist, he’s an amazing person.”
Beauty pageants have had to adapt in a rapidly changing world, and I’m interested to hear Cindy’s perspective.
“I’m naturally competitive,” she says, “and I put my all into the Miss Universe Albania competition. When I won, I discovered that it was a very worthwhile experience. You have to be well spoken, and you are given a global platform to use your voice on topics that really matter and which you are passionate about. In my case, I’m really invested in the preservation of our oceans and climate. I spread awareness and led by example.”
I press in about the changes in the industry and Cindy describes what she’s witnessed.
“I’m very connected with nature, and I’ve led a lot of ocean cleanups. I started an initiative to raise funds for one of the environmental organizations. I’ve also volunteered for the Eko Mendje organization in Shkodër, Albania, a deforestation rehabilitation program.”
“The Miss Universe pageant was recently bought out by women and that’s a healthy step. My personal opinion from what’s I’ve encountered is that they are minimizing the sexualization of women and they are promoting diversity and greater inclusivity. I certainly never felt pressurized to do anything I wasn’t comfortable doing.”
Cindy has worked with ‘Heal the Bay’, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds in Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy and clean.
“I’m very connected with nature,” she continues, “and I’ve led a lot of ocean cleanups. I started an initiative to raise funds for one of the environmental organizations. I’ve also volunteered for the Eko Mendje organization in Shkodër, Albania, a deforestation rehabilitation program. I’m confident that with all the knowledge and awareness we have on environmental issues that we will continue to make strides in a positive direction.”
Beyond preserving our ecosystem, Cindy’s altruism is evident in numerous directions. She has worked in an orphanage in Shkodër, Albania as well as an animal needs organization in the same town. She’s also raised $15,000 for earthquake victims in Albania after the 2019 earthquake disaster.
I ask Cindy to paint a picture of her dream scenario – career wise – in the next five years.
“I love sports television,” she concludes unequivocally. “I’ve found my passion there, and being able to work in that industry is a blessing. I would love to continue doing sports commentary – and it would be extra special if I could come back to the USA and do it. I try not to over plan because opportunities are rarely planned.”
When it comes to relaxation past-times, Cindy loves exploring Europe, and is making the most of her time working in Italy.
“When you are stationed in Europe,” she explains, ‘It’s so easy to travel around. Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world and I love it for so many reasons: the culture, the history, the food. There are so many beautiful spots in Italy. I also love to be at the beach. I’ve never been to Asia so that’s the next destination on my bucket list. I recently visited the island of Crete in Greece and found the water to be so beautiful. I also indulged in the wonderful food, which is very similar to Albanian food – which is influenced by nearby Greece and Turkey. It consists of lots of fish and feta. I love feta cheese and Greek salads!”
“As we get older, it’s harder to get all of us together as we all have so many commitments, so our family really makes the most of our time together at the holidays. On Christmas Eve, we have a long-standing tradition where we have a special dinner – and oftentimes we’ll invite friends over.”
Cindy’s other indulgences include going to spas and experiencing a healing massage, but she’s quick to point out that she’s also a home body and loves spending time at home – watching movies and Netflix.
I ask her what her favorite food dish is, and she responds without a second’s hesitation: “Sushi.”
Since she’s a great movie-watcher, I’m interested to learn what movies captivated her. She says enthusiastically,
“’Interstellar’. It’s set in a dystopian future where humanity is embroiled in a catastrophic blight and famine. I’ve always been fascinated by space, and the story was well told. I’ve seen it seven times!”
Cindy has achieved much in the first quarter of her life and that success is attributable to her resilience, confidence, ability to adapt and her creativity. She acknowledges that being highly adaptable has served her well in life. It’s a valuable ability to roll with life’s changes and embrace new environments. Challenges are turned into opportunities in which Cindy steps out of her comfort zone and grows.
“Volleyball and sport have taught me a lot,” she emphasizes. “When you are playing a sport at a pressurized level, you face adversity all the time and you must figure out a solution. I have learned a lot from my parents too. By example they have shown us that adaptation needn’t be stressful. Our family does not give up. Failure is part of life, and you pick yourself up and learn from failure – but you never give up.”
I conclude our interview with a definitive awareness that Cindy Marina has a spectacularly impressive edge – not only because she is competitive – but because she knows how to positively seize each day with characteristics that are vital in life’s journey. Combined, she possesses a symphony of strengths.