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Greensburg Salem's Lexi Heinimann a grad for all seasons

| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 5:44 p.m.
Lexi Heinimann in the cockpit of a Cessna 172.
Lexi Heinimann in the cockpit of a Cessna 172.

When newly minted Greensburg Salem graduate Lexi Heinimann was in her junior year, all she wanted to become was a “normal teenager.”

It took about a week before she figured out how to fit in while she was an exchange student attending a new school in Geneva, Switzerland.

But, by any measure, Lexi Heinimann is an extraordinary individual — an aspiring pilot who excels with a symphony, on an archery course and in a classroom, whether it be American or Swiss.

Her father, Markus Heinimann, is Swiss and German and his ancestors came from the German-speaking portion of Switzerland. Switzerland was her first choice to spend the year studying, but she went to the part of the country where French is spoken, she said.

The first week “was awkward because I was in a foreign culture, and living with a family with whom I had communicated only via email — twice!” she said.

Fortunately for Heinimann, she had studied French, up to and including French IV.

All three siblings in her host family had been involved with exchange programs in English-speaking countries, but rather than converse in English, “from day one for me it was all French” at home and in school, she said.

“All in all, it was a relatively easy adjustment,” she said. “I was becoming a normal teenager and eventually I felt like I was actually a Swiss teenager, instead of an awkward American visiting a foreign country. I was living with strangers but they quickly became my second family. I was comfortable after a week and loved becoming part of that culture.”

She and her host family celebrated Christmas with a ski vacation in the Alps.

“They celebrate Christmas December 24 and we were surrounded by the snow-covered Alps, eating cheese fondue,” she said. “Switzerland is such a beautiful country. We hiked and skied in the Alps and I did return to the United States a better skier. I was there for a solid year and cannot wait to return.”

During her senior year at Greensburg Salem, there were no traces of awkwardness.

Heinimann was selected as a flute player for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Wind Ensemble.

“Lexi is a motivated student and well-rounded,” said Jaime West, the 11-year director of bands at Greensburg Salem high and middle schools and Heinimann's band director since she was a sixth-grader. “She is a very strong musician and has always been very passionate about music.”

First, she made it to the District I band, comprised of students from 54 districts in Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, Greene and Fayette counties. She had to audition for the regional band and was the only individual in her section selected to move on to the wind ensemble.

“It's a huge accomplishment and I'm really proud of her,” West said.

In the Golden Lions band, Heinimann is a senior officer and flute/piccolo section leader. She is the principal flute in the Westmoreland Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“I've always loved music,” Heinimann said. She started taking piano lessons in kindergarten and began flute lessons in third grade. “It involves so much practice to reach the all-state level and I always thought that someday I would get lucky and be selected for the all-state (wind ensemble). I was actually very surprised because there were several girls at regional competition who always placed higher than me.”

Heinimann is ranked in the top 10 percent of her class with a 4.0 grade point average. The member of the National Honor Society was in the French, chemistry and physics clubs. and was named a National Merit Commended Student.

If that isn't enough, Heinimann is an indoor and outdoor competitive archer at Crowfoot Rod and Gun Club in Murrysville.

“I love sword fighting and archery, based on what I've discovered in books about medieval history and culture,” said Heinimann, who shoots an Olympic recurve bow.

The member of the Pennsylvania Archery Association holds the Pennsylvania State Intermediate Division Recurve Archery 18 meters indoor record, as well as various state indoor and outdoor titles.

Her success has earned Heinimann an archery scholarship to Texas A&M University, where she will major in aerospace engineering with aspirations of becoming a flight-test engineer or flight-test pilot.

With two current Olympians on the Texas A&M roster, the Aggies field one of the elite archery programs in the nation.

When she is not practicing the flute or on the archery range, she is working on her student's pilot license at Jimmy Stewart Airport in Indiana.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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