Students at McClellan Elementary School in the West Jefferson Hills School District have to move fast to keep up with their physical education teacher: Marie Bartoletti, who has taught fitness to students there for 17 years, just completed another triathlon.
"It was tough," says the 55-year-old Bethel Park resident, about the Kona Ironman Championship that took place in Hawaii in mid-October. She was one of 1,800 athletes from across the world who qualified for the event.
First, Ms. Bartoletti swam 2.4 miles in "the biggest swells ever," she said.
Volunteers who patrolled the event from kayaks to keep the competitors safe, provided encouragement, she said. "They told me it would be easier going back because the waves were so big."
She didn't get to dry off during the 112-mile biking portion of the event that followed, because of drenching rains and wicked crosswinds.
"I was a little bit nervous," said the veteran of several triathlons. "Every year it's windy but this year's was the windiest.''
The final event, a 26.2-mile marathon, was just another fun run to the woman who runs about 30 marathons a year (sometimes two in one weekend) and volunteers as a pacer at marathons across the country, helping the other runners to make it across the finish line with encouragement and humor. She's a regular volunteer pacer at the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, where she can be seen wearing one of her vast collection of funny hats.
She had a hat for the Hawaii event, too. It was created by an art teacher at McClelland and featured the Pittsburgh Marathon and next year's date, May 5, 2013.
Back at school after the Ironman event, Ms. Bartoletti quickly went to work getting her students ready to compete in the Punt, Pass and Kick competition at McClellan. Lily Rockwell, a fourth-grader, went on to the sectionals Oct. 21, where she won in both the girls' and the boys' 8- to 9-year-old division. Lily will attend the Dec. 9 Steelers-San Diego game at Heinz Field and participate in a punt, pass and kick event before the game.
Ms. Bartoletti has had students who make it to the finals in each of the 16 years she's trained students for the competition.
But just because that competition is over doesn't mean the McClellan students can rest. Their gym teacher is now getting them ready to run in the Kids of Steel race that takes place every year the day before the Pittsburgh Marathon. "We run a half-mile once a week here to get them in shape for running a mile," Ms. Bartoletti said.
The official Kids of Steel training program will begin Jan. 7 and continue for 16 weeks until this year's children's race, which takes place May 4. To qualify, the students must run 24 miles during the training program, completing the 25th mile at the event.
The first- through fifth-graders at McClellan aren't the only students in the district to benefit from Ms. Bartoletti's fitness instruction. The boys' and girls' junior varsity tennis teams finished the season with only one loss.
Ms. Bartoletti, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., was a nationally ranked tennis player while in college at Central Michigan University. When she first came to Pittsburgh, she played on the U.S. Tennis Association team in Mt. Lebanon. Her second year there, the team won the national competition in Palm Springs.
"I love all sports," Ms. Bartoletti said. "I think I got my athletic ability from my dad but my commitment to community service from my mom. Her first endeavor locally was introducing the National Heart Association's Jump Rope for the Heart competition to her elementary students. "My mom always said, 'It's nice to be important but more important to be nice.' "
And that's what led her from running marathons to pacing them. "I don't really care about winning races anymore," said the mother of two grown sons. "I've been there a few times.''
Rita Michel, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.