ADAMS TWP — One thing is definite about Maddie Gagnon's scholarship to Wagner College.
She earned it.
The Mars senior recently accepted an offer to continue her academic and triathlon career at the Staten Island, N.Y., school. She has been a member of the Get Fit Families Elite Triathlon Team for years.
“I've been working with Maddie since she was 10 years old,” Get Fit Families coach Joella Baker said. “She's the first athlete I've coached all the way through to attain something like this.
“I'm excited for her. She's getting better and better. She's going to do great things.”
Maddie joined a running club in third grade. She is also a member of the Mars High School swim team and has been a swimmer for years.
It's the bicycling part of the triathlon she had to grow accustomed to.
“That was a bit of a challenge at first,” Maddie said. “I had to get to know cycling. Once I did ... now I enjoy all parts of the triathlon.
“It's been a goal of mine for a few years now to be able to do this in college.”
College opportunities in the sport are not plentiful. Only 35 colleges in the United States offer triathlon as a varsity sport and only nine of those are Division I schools.
Wagner's triathlon team will be entering its third season next year. The team placed fourth at the NCAA Women's Collegiate Triathlon National Championships last year, trailing four-time champion Arizona State, South Dakota and East Tennessee State.
Six of Wagner's eight triathletes in 2019 were freshmen or sophomores, including North Allegheny graduate Ally Meehan, a teammate of Maddie's with Get Fit Families.
Maddie has competed all over the United States for the past six years. She is a USA Triathlon All-American and a Team USA qualifier.
She qualified to compete for Team USA at the World Championships this year in Edmonton, Alberta, but that event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was so disappointing for her,” Baker said. “But getting this scholarship is Maddie's best news of 2020 as a triathlete.”
“This is the first year I qualified to compete in the world championship and I was really excited to go,” she said. “I did get to compete in a (triathlon) series against people all over the country, though.”
She placed 20th in that series out of a field of 75 athletes.
“Her work ethic is off the charts,” Baker said of Gagnon. “She's the hardest working athlete I've ever been around.
“That girl gives 100 percent, not just as an athlete, but in the classroom, too. And she loves the sport. That's critical, because to compete at the Division I level, you have to love it.”
Maddie carries a 4.137 grade point average at Mars. She plans to major in biology and work toward a career as a physical therapist.
Part of her scholarship money is on the academic side.
Wagner head triathlon coach Roman Fedosieiev said in a prepared statement: “We look for hard working, dedicated and passionate student-athletes who are team players and hungry to succeed in their academic and athletic college careers.
“We are confident that Maddie will add great value to our team.”
She practices five times a week with her Get Fit Families team and five days a week during the summer, not including competitions.
“I love to do it,” she said of the sport. “I just want to continue to improve.”