MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — About three weeks and 30 degrees ago, U.S. Olympic triathlete Joe Maloy III sat in a booth at Bruni’s Pizza in Rio Grande while snow started to cover the cars in the parking lot.
People wore looks of disgust while they cleaned off their windshields.
Maloy was giddy.
“I honestly love it,” he said. “My phone told me last night it was going to snow today, and I was so excited. It’s been a long time since I woke up to snow.”
Maloy, 31, is living in his boyhood home in Wildwood Crest again after spending five years training in San Diego in preparation for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
There must be something in the local soil and salt water.
The 2004 Wildwood Catholic High School graduate and former member of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol was the top American finisher in the men’s triathlon at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. He placed 23rd overall among 55 competitors after completing the 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10K run in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 30 seconds.
After the Olympics, Maloy competed in a few more races, then returned to San Diego to start training with coach Paolo Sousa and The Triathlon Squad team.
About six weeks ago, he decided to return to Wildwood Crest.
“I was surprised when he told me he was coming back, but we sort of expected it,” Maloy’s father, Joe Maloy Jr., said in a phone interview from his winter home in Florida. “His goal all along was to get to the Olympics, and once he reached that goal, he seemed to be looking for another avenue to pursue. I also think that being away from the area for so long made him aware of how great and unique the Wildwood Crest community is.”
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The elder Maloy flew to San Diego to meet up with his son, and the two drove cross-country back to Wildwood Crest.
They turned it into an adventure, visiting the Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks in Arizona, stopping to pick cotton in Alabama, touring the area in Dallas where President Kennedy was assassinated and taking in the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, along the way.
The younger Maloy posted a picture of himself in a cotton field on his Instagram account with the hashtag “roadtojersey.”
“I’d like to think this cotton dreams of becoming a Wildwood Boardwalk T-shirt someday,” he wrote.
He didn’t give up his training, however.
Every once in a while, Maloy would pull his bike off the car roof and set off for a 50-mile bike ride.
“I got to know the Petrified Forest very well,” his father said with a laugh. “Joe took off on his bike and was gone for three hours.”
This season’s schedule includes races both abroad and along the East Coast. He said he plans to defend his title in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco on June 11 and is considering entering several local events throughout the summer.
His main focus, however, is the new Super League Triathlon series. Maloy was one of 25 elite triathletes to sign contracts with the series, which features a unique format. Each race will include three days of racing with the order of a 300-meter swim, 6-kilometer bike and 2K run alternating each day.
The series, which features $1.5 million in prize money and incentives, kicks off on March 17-19 at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
“I think this is really going to play to my strengths,” Maloy said.
He’s preparing for the series in Cape May County.
Morning swims are done at the Joseph Von Savage Memorial Pool in Wildwood Crest. The town recently awarded him with a lifetime pass. He rides on an indoor trainer at home. Runs are usually conducted either on a treadmill or when the weather cooperates, on the roads in Cape May, Lower Township and the Wildwoods.
A recent rainy morning found him running across the West Cape Bridge.
“In order to make hard decisions in life, you need passion,” Maloy said. “Whenever I give talks, I explain to people that the root word for passion in Latin means ‘to suffer.’ It’s all about what you’re willing to suffer for.”
He still has the passion for triathlon but is not sure if he will have it for another four years.
To keep training for that length of time would mean postponing other aspects of life — possibly starting a family, beginning a new career — for a while.
“Maybe the fact that I’m in my 30s is playing tricks in my head, but I don’t know if I can keep this up for another four years,” Maloy said. “I’m not retiring, but I just going to do things in a different way. I’m giving myself this year to compete, and then I’ll see where things stand.
“I’ve focused on one thing for an extended period of time. Now I’m on the other side of it, wanting to work like that towards something again, but weighing my options on what I want to work towards and how I want to do it.
“I’m excited to see what else is out there for me.”