Penn Hills School District fitness teams finish top 5 in nation

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Gabrielle Sorce, 17, has to be careful when she exercises. A heart condition sometimes causes her heartbeat to race to 200 beats per minute at random times.

But she did not let that stop her from competing on a Penn Hills School District girls fitness team that placed third in the nation at the National High School Physical Fitness Championships, held in mid-May at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego.

“It's kind of like a fluttering in my chest, and it's hard to catch my breath,” Sorce said of her diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia. “It's kind of scary because I feel almost like I can't breathe. I just have to sit and relax and try to get my heart rate down.”

Sorce attempts to control the condition through medication and said she did not have an elevated heart rate during the national competition.

Fitness team coach Bob Martin said the girls team was hampered by a spate of injuries this year.

“Gina Gionta, our top performer the past couple years, ended up in the hospital with an illness the night before the national competition,” he said.

“When she got there, she hadn't worked out in a week, but she competed and came in fifth place overall.”

Team member Aleena Gula battled through three herniated discs in her lower back, and two weeks before nationals, she hurt her knee playing soccer.

“But she came along, too, and finished in the top 20,” Martini said.

Four team members — Gionta, Gula, Alyssa Innes and Sarah DePew — posted top-20 individual finishes.

“It's pretty amazing,” Martini said. “We heard a lot of coaches at nationals saying they were really surprised that we pulled out third place.”

The boys team finished in fourth place out of 21 teams at nationals, and Martini said his biggest challenge was deciding on the six who would compete.

“The guys were pretty good all year,” he said. “They all did so well at the (March 2014) meet that they all felt they could make the top group.”

Sorce said both teams felt good about their performances.

“We wanted to work hard and get a medal. Considering we all had injuries (on the girls' team), to get third going against a bunch of healthy teams, we felt like we pushed ourselves past injury to do well.”

Sorce also gave a lot of credit to the coaching staff.

“They have to deal with a lot of kids, and they never get frustrated,” she said. “They're really proud of us no matter what we do.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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