Challenge. Whether it's in the classroom or in an athletic event, it's what Kenai Central senior Greg Landua thrives on.
"I suspect he'll hang with the best of them the rest of his life," Kardinals cross-country skiing coach Stephanie Kind said. "It comes back to him needing a challenge.
"Hanging with the best is challenging, so that's what he'll want."
A prime example came Saturday at the Region III ski championships at Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School.
Knowing his appetite for challenge, Kind tabbed Landua to ski the first leg of the 4-by-5-kilometer relay.
The senior, who just missed out on making Alaska's Junior Olympics team this year, immediately sprinted out in the midst of a pack of five. Everyone in the pack is on Alaska's Junior Olympics team this year, or had been in the past.
Further, everyone in the pack had defeated Landua in the 10-kilometer classical race Friday, where he finished 10th.
But Landua stayed with the pack over all 5 kilometers and defeated all four with a furious sprint down the finish chute, keying Kenai's fourth-place finish in the relay.
"He needs a challenge to make him work really hard," Kind said after the relay Saturday. "A case in point came today."
Landua's parents, John and Glenda Landua, have had Greg skiing, be it cross country or downhill, ever since he could stand up on skis.
But Landua said he didn't start skiing for competition, and not just for fun, until his junior year of high school.
"Maybe it came from when some of the really fast guys went by me in a race," he said. "I wanted to be able to keep up with them.
"I knew I'd have to step up my training to do it."
Kind also said she saw Landua's yearning to be a fast skier come out at the end of his sophomore ski season, when he watched the Junior Olympics in Anchorage.
"It wasn't even anything he said," Kind said. "It just effected him in a way that I got the feeling he wanted to be able to ski that fast."
Landua also has been adept at meeting challenges in soccer, which is his favorite sport. He developed an affinity for the game while he lived in Idaho between first and sixth grade.
Landua was born on the peninsula, but his family briefly moved to Idaho so John, a chemical engineer, and Glenda, a biologist, could further their educations.
"I think living in Idaho for those years had a pretty big impact," Landua said. "If I had stayed in Alaska, I probably would have ended up playing the sports everybody else plays -- hockey, football and baseball."
Landua has been a varsity midfielder since his freshman year. In Idaho, he was exposed to more soccer than the typical peninsula player his age, and Kardinals soccer coach David Landry said that experience shows on the field.
"You can sometimes tell when players are a little more experienced," Landry said. "The skills are a little bit more refined and they look to do something others kids wouldn't think about doing.
"Plus, there's the old adage about the more touches on the ball, the more likely you are to develop those skills. Greg is clearly one of those people."
Landua, who scored three goals last year, was a key figure in the midfield as the Kardinals advanced to the first sanctioned state high school soccer tournament.
He said the highlight of his high school sports career came at the first round of the state tournament, when the Kardinals surprised the soccer world by taking Chugiak to overtime before dropping a 3-2 decision.
"He takes on challenges," Landry said. "The thing Greg always has to worry about is being his own worst critic.
"Sometimes he gets down on himself because he is so full of fire to win."
For his exploits in cross country, cross-country skiing and soccer, Landua was voted the most athletic in his class by his fellow classmates.
But he is anything but a one-dimensional jock, carrying a 3.46 grade point average in the classroom despite taking some of Kenai Central's most challenging classes.
"I suspect it's a combination of his expectations for himself and our expectations for him," Glenda said of Greg's challenging courses. "His dad's a chemical engineer, and I'm a biologist, so academically we want him to keep every door open."
Landua's next big challenge is life after high school. He wants to start it with a year in a foreign country.
His wanderlust developed from a trip to Spain and Austria last summer and a family trip to Europe in 1998.
Among the options Landua is exploring for next year is an exchange scholarship to spend the year in Germany, even though all of his foreign language experience comes in Spanish.
"I don't know any German, but it would be hard to pass that opportunity up," Landua said. "It would be great to go there and learn German for free."
Hmm. Sounds like a challenge.
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