Zelienople-based triathlon team claims 2nd place at USA Nationals

ZELIENOPLE — Running, swimming and bicycling.

Most kids enjoy such activities.

Joella Baker enjoys combining the three — and she’s selling more and more kids on that concept.

Baker is head of the Get Fit Families youth triathlon team, based out of Zelienople. She formed the team seven years ago and had 10 kids ages 7-18.

This year, there were 65 kids involved — including 54 who made the trip to West Chester, Ohio, recently for the USA Triathlon Youth and Junior National Championship.

The Get Fit Families team placed second overall in the club standings with 15,517 points. The Multisport Madness Triathlon team won out in the 60-team field with 19,772 points.

“We finished in fourth place overall in each of the past two seasons at nationals,” Baker said. “Finishing second got us on the podium, which was very exciting for these kids.”

Two of the Get Fit Families athletes — Ben Capozzi, 14, of Cranberry Township and Julia Zalenski, 13, of Mars — won national titles in their respective age groups in the club division.

Capozzi’s winning time was 30 minutes, 31 seconds. He had placed fourth at the triathlon competition in Des Moines, Iowa, in June.

“I improved my time by six minutes over last year,” Capozzi said of nationals. “I was surprised I won, I guess, but I felt like I had a chance.

“I wanted to place among the top five at nationals. That was my goal.”

Capozzi will be a freshman at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic this year and plans to run cross country there.

Zalenski will be attending St. Killian. She completed the course at nationals in 32:29 this year.

“I got disqualified last year,” she said. “I only went one time around the bike course and I was supposed to do two.

“I was really surprised to win. That felt pretty good.”

Zalenski said she does cross country and track and field, but the triathlon “has become my favorite sport to do. I like to run, ride a bike and go swimming, and I love doing them together.”

At nationals, the swimming portion was 200 yards, the bicycling 10 kilometers and the running was two kilometers.

The Get Fit Families team trains all year round, spending the winter months working out at the YMCA in Cranberry. Most of the other months, team practices and workouts are outdoors.

This year, the team trained at Edco Park in Evans City. Its usual home — Zelienople Community Park — was having work done.

“These kids go five or six days a week, three hours per session,” Baker said. I began the program in 2009, when my son was 6, to get kids interested in the triathlon.

“It’s all about growing up healthy through fun, consistent exercise.”

From early May through September, the team competes in six to 10 events. Locally, the team competed in triathlons at South Park, Riverside High School, Mount Pleasant and Bethel Park, along with the Mighty Moraine Man at Moraine State Park.

In order to qualify athletes for the Elite portion of the USA Triathlon National Championship, Get Fit Families traveled to events in Sarasota (Fla.), Richmond (Va.), Wisconsin and Des Moines.

“We had 11 athletes qualify for the Elite race, our most ever,” Baker said.

Alaina Hicks from Mars placed seventh in the Elite female race at nationals. Overall, the Get Fit Families team placed 11 kids on the podium.

Capozzi has been part of the team for five years now. He said the practice schedule isn’t as rigorous as it sounds.

“They’re not all hard, pounding workouts,” he said. “One day we may work on endurance, another day swimming, it all balances out.

“When you see minutes drop off your time, you just want to get better. And I’ve learned a lot about time management since I joined this team.”

The Get Fit Families team members do volunteer work together. They also do fun activities with their free time, such as paddle boarding and visiting “the snowman” for snow cones after open water swims at Moraine.

“They always keep it fun,” Zalenski said. “I never get tired of it.”


Article by: John Enrietto, The Cranberry Eagle