Crane Accidents

Past Grief Helped Forge Star

01/1/06

El Cajon, California

It’s been nearly 10 years since Jenna Cvitkovich lost her father.

Wayne Cvitkovich, a veteran ironworker, was working on the expansion of Fashion Valley shopping center in June 1996 when he was killed by a steel beam that fell from a crane. The accident and its aftermath received extensive news coverage as family, friends and co-workers paid tribute to a man they loved and respected.

Now a junior at Valhalla High, Jenna has learned a lot about life in her 17 years. The youngest of Wayne Cvitkovich’s three children has developed into a tenacious leader, co-captain of the water polo team and trusted confidante to her friends.

Though Jenna was only 7 when her father died, the memories have stayed with her.

“I remember so much,” she said. “I remember, I think, more than some of my other family members.”

When the conversation turned to family, Jenna’s eyes began to well up and her smile was overpowered by the lump in her throat. But just as quickly, her contagious grin reappeared and Jenna talked about using her experiences to have a positive impact on people.

Since Wayne Cvitkovich’s death, his family has been surrounded by a close huddle of aunts, uncles, cousins and lifelong friends.

“When he died, it made me realize how important they were,” Jenna said. “All my aunts and uncles stepped in and became a really big part of my family. I consider them all my moms and dads.”

Jenna’s mother, Diann, said her daughter is outgoing, just like her father.

“She’s not afraid to say what she thinks,” Diann said.

“She’s loud and hyper,” said brother Michael, 24.

“She’s friends with everyone. We love Jenna,” said team co-captain Andrea Linzey.

Jenna Cvitkovich said she strives to maintain a conciliatory tone, especially with her mother.

“I try to make her life easier with me,” Jenna said. “I realize how one fight is not worth that fight because you never know when you won’t have that person.”

This water polo season has been a test of Cvitkovich’s leadership skills. After finishing second to Granite Hills in the Grossmont South League the past two years, Valhalla has lost its first five games, four by two or fewer goals.

The versatile Cvitkovich – whose older sister Katie, 19, also played at Valhalla – does not have one set position but is used as a super utility player by coach Ryan Needles.

“I can use her to set or post up or shoot outside. I can even use her as an emergency goalie,” said Needles, whose team plays a nonleague match at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Santana.

Cvitkovich, who’s attracted interest from UCLA, has made a specialty of drawing ejections, which create a brief player advantage for her team.

“She’s a very physical, very smart player,” Needles said. “She lets people know where to go, what to do. She directs like a quarterback.”

Wherever the coach uses Cvitkovich, he said he knows he can rely on her.

“If you want to try something, she’ll give you the chance,” Needles said. “You don’t have to worry about her.”

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