About an hour before he competes in the ITU World Triathlon Yokohama in Japan this weekend, Wildwood Crest native Joe Maloy will wade into the lake at Yamashita Park, swim out about a half mile, then turn and gaze at the shoreline.
It's a tradition he's followed for years, ever since he was a member of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol about a decade ago.
"My brother (John) and I used to do it all the time and it's something I still do," Maloy said. "When I'm out there, sometimes I think about home. I've been all over the world and I've still never seen a shoreline as nice as Wildwood's in the summer. I also think about where I am at that moment and how thankful I am to be in the position I'm in."
Later this year, he's hoping to be looking at the shoreline in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Maloy will enter the Japan race as the top-ranked American in the latest ITU (International Triathlon Union) Olympic qualification list and is ranked 23rd in the world. He is considered a heavy favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team, along with Spokane, Washington, native Greg Billington, Maloy's teammate on coach Paulo Sousa's San Diego-based Triathlon Squad.
"I don't see things in those terms, of having an expectation to make the (Olympic) team," Sousa said. "I knew we're working very hard every day to make it happen, and we'll continue to work very hard to make it happen. After that, we'll be able to focus on Rio.
"The Olympic Games are a place where it's very hard to perform because of so much attention the athletes have on them. That's where having a 'big game' mindset makes a huge difference, and we've been working on that a lot. It's always hard to talk about (winning) medals, but I know we'll be working on having Joe be at his lifetime best in Rio."
Besides swimming, biking and running, Maloy, 30, has also been working to develop and strengthen that mindset.
For the past year, the 2004 Wildwood Catholic High School and 2008 Boston College graduate has been working with Dr. Mitchell Greene, a sports psychologist based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
Greene, a fellow Boston College grad, also works with triathletes during the Escape the Cape Triathlon in Lower Township. He talks to competitors who are nervous about making the 12-foot plunge off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to begin the race.
"I needed something else to help me, and I've always been interested in the role the mind plays in sports," Maloy said. "The training environment out here (in San Diego) is great for training physically, but it's extremely competitive. There's not too much emotional support from the other athletes because if I have a bad day, that's good for them."
"Sometimes, that environment can get to be too much. I needed something to remind me of who I am at heart. Working with Mitch helps center me, and I'd like to think it gives me a little secret weapon."
It took a little while for him to see positive results.
He had inconsistent performances through most of 2015. He fell into a slump in September, placing 48th in a World Triathlon Series race in Edmonton, Canada and 54th in a Chicago WTS event two weeks later.
Sousa urged him to keep "trusting the process," to continue to "carry water and chop wood."
On Nov. 15, he chopped down a mighty oak.
Maloy won the Noosa Triathlon in Australia. He completed the 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 4 seconds to become the first American champion in the 33-year history of that event.
"Life is all about timing," race promoter Steve Del Monte, president of DelMoSports and one of Maloy's good friends, told a group of students at Wildwood Catholic on Friday. "You can either peak too early or you can peak at the right time. Joe is peaking at the right time.
"I don't know that many people understand what he's about to accomplish. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people doing triathlons. And he's going to be one of three people to represent the United States in the Olympics. It just shows what is possible through hard work and dedication."
Certain parts of the triathlon came easy for Maloy.
He was a cross country, swimming and track and field standout for Wildwood Catholic, then swam distance freestyle and butterfly for Boston College. Summers were spent dominating open water swims during the lifeguard racing season as a member of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol from 2003-08. In 2007, he won the Cape May Superathlon, a running, rowing and swimming event.
"Those were the best six summers of my life," Maloy said. "Working on the beach, hanging out with my friends. It was great."
But soon his competitive drive prompted him to seek out more challenges.
Partly on DelMonte's urging, he borrowed his mom's bike and entered a triathlon at Belleplain State Park, finishing second. Soon afterward he moved to Philadelphia, then to San Diego to train with and against elite triathletes.
"Joe knew that he couldn't reach his potential by staying in the area, even though he loves his family and his community," Del Monte said. "It just goes to show you that if you're the smartest person in the room, leave the room. Go find a room where people are smarter than you. That's the only way you'll learn and grow."
Maloy learned the most upon arriving in San Diego in 2012.
Southern California is considered a hotbed for triathletes. Virtually all of the country's top competitors train there. Maloy was initially at the back of most of the packs, but has steadily worked his way up to the front.
"He's improved quite a lot," Sousa said. "When he started training out here, he was able to be competitive at the lowest level of Olympic-distance triathlon racing and was mostly surviving on his natural abilities. In the last four years, we were able to slowly develop him into a competitor at the world level, like his last result in (Australia) shows.
"Joe is a very well-rounded athlete, but his main strength is a huge belief in what's possible and what he can achieve. Joe is a never-say-die, shooting-for-the-stars guy, but he always goes about things in a realistic, purposeful way. His progression was only possible because he committed to himself and his goals. That is the start and finish of any accomplishment."
After next Sunday's race, where he hopes to officially earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Maloy plans on returning to Wildwood Crest for a few weeks to visit with family and friends, then resume his training in San Diego and Flagstaff, Arizona, before heading to Brazil.
More than anything, he wants to go swimming again with his younger brother John, who is an attorney in New York.
He wants nothing more than to swim past the break, float on his back and stare at the Ferris wheel at Morey's Piers.
For Maloy, there really is no place like home.
"I live a pretty lonely existence out in California," he said. "I like to say I'm based out of San Diego, but I'm traveling so much that it's not really home for me in the traditional sense. I'm kind of a homebody, and it's tough when you're never home. I miss Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. I miss hanging out with my friends and my family. Wildwood Crest is and always will be home for me."