Harmony’s Baker leading women’s triathlon team at Duquesne University
It was when she was a teenager that Joella Baker was exposed to the training and competition involved with triathlons.
"My sister talked me into doing one in Vermont," said the resident of Harmony. "That was the summer before I started college."
Competing eventually turned into preparing others and Baker founded Get Fit Families in 2009. One of the program's roles is to train youths for triathlons at the local, regional and national level. Currently, around 50 triathletes from Butler, Beaver, Allegheny and Mercer counties are working under Baker's tutelage.
Recently, she was hired to lead the newly-formed women's triathlon team at Duquesne University. Baker competed in cross country, swimming and track for the Dukes before graduating in 1992.
"I feel like I'm going home," she said. "I loved my time at Duquesne and it's a great opportunity."
Duquesne will be one of 14 NCAA Division I schools fielding a program next fall.
"Right now we have two women on the team — Alaina Hicks and Paige Black — but with freshmen coming in next school year, we will have 11 on the team when the season starts," said Baker.
Hicks, a 2022 graduate of North Catholic High School, is an Adams Township resident and joined Get Fit Families 10 years ago.
"I was on Duquesne's cross country team last fall, but found out soon after I arrived that a triathlon team was being formed," Hicks said. "I decided to focus just on triathlons. Staying with cross country would have been too much to balance.
"I'm very excited to be part of this program and see it grow. Most of the team members will be freshmen and I want to help establish a culture here."
Dave Harper, Duquesne's vice president of athletics, is confident Baker will field a team able to compete with the other Division I programs around the county, which include Arizona, South Dakota, Delaware State, Arizona State, East Tennessee State and Navy, among others.
"Joella has the combination of strong coaching skills and recruiting capabilities that will advance the establishment of our new triathlon program," he said in a released statement. "The local and national network she has developed within the sport will help us as we embark upon the process of building a competitive program. Her vision for the student-athlete experience is exemplary. We are truly excited to add a coach of her caliber to our department."
Hicks is enrolled in Duquesne's Physician's Assistant Program. She appreciates that she is already familiar with Baker. Aside from her involvement with Get Fit Families, she competed under Baker when the latter was coaching cross country, swimming and track and field at North Catholic.
"She's a good coach," said Hicks. "She knows the sport very well and she knows me as an athlete."
Baker does not take for granted the chance to coach the sport she loves at her alma mater.
"Because of the high (academic) standards at Duquesne, we will be able to recruit a lot of strong student-athletes," she said. "Our numbers will grow and I think we can compete for a national championship within a few years."