WILDWOOD CREST — Joe Maloy III stood on the balcony of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol headquarters in late May and stared out into a grayish blue ocean.

He fixed his gaze about 100 yards beyond the surf break.

“There’s a whale out there!” he shouted, zipping up his wetsuit and charging down the stairs.

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The 30-year-old jogged across the sand and into the water, lifting his knees to his waist, then porpoising over the waves before starting to swim. He glided over the water with smooth-yet-powerful strokes honed from a boyhood spent on the beach.

He came ashore a half hour later, flashing a bright smile.

“I didn’t see the whale, but I still had a great time,” Maloy said. “I’m going to go back out in a little while. There’s nothing like being home again. Wildwood Crest is a part of me, and I take it with me wherever I go.”

In a few weeks, he’ll be taking it to Rio de Janiero, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

***

Maloy, a 2004 Wildwood Catholic High School graduate, is a member of the U.S. men’s triathlon team that will be competing Aug. 18 at Brazil’s famous Copacabana Beach.

His parents, Mary and Joe Jr., will be there, as will his younger brother, John, and various friends.

They will all be there to see him fulfill a lifelong dream.

When Joe was in the first grade at Crest Memorial School, his teacher asked the class to keep a journal. One of his first entries read: “I am going to the Olympics.”

In sixth grade, he had to make a New Year’s resolution. He resolved to “go to the Olympics.”

Until six years ago, however, it didn’t seem likely.

Despite a standout career as a runner and swimmer at Wildwood Catholic and as a swimmer at Boston College, his athletic prowess appeared destined to be reserved for the South Jersey lifeguard racing circuit and some local triathlons.

He wasn’t viewed as a terrific athlete while growing up in Wildwood Crest.

“I quit Little League, and that turned out to be a great decision,” Maloy said with a laugh. “When I was in eighth grade at Crest Memorial (in 2000), they announced the ‘Most Athletic’ award for the school, and it went to Will Morey. The funny part about that is that it was the right call. Will was a much better athlete.”

Maloy may not even be the best athlete in his family.

His brother, John, a 27-year-old attorney in New York City, was also a standout swimmer at Wildwood Catholic and Boston College, in addition to being a four-year standout on Wildwood Catholic’s tennis team. John also won the swim at the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships four times as a member of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol.

In 2011, he rallied to take first place in the open division of the run-swim-run event at the United States Lifesaving Association’s National Lifeguard Championships in Cape May.

“Joe would always complain that people were telling him, ‘Run, Forrest, Run,’ (from the movie ‘Forrest Gump’) while John was getting $90 tennis lessons,” Joe Maloy Jr. said with a laugh. “They are both great athletes, but different. Joe did it with sheer willpower and a lot of hard, hard work.”

John is now Joe’s biggest fan. He traveled with him to Japan in mid-May and was there to celebrate with him when Joe qualified for the U.S. Olympic team at World Triathlon Yokohama.

When Wildwood Crest honored Joe with a ceremony at the town’s pavilion a week later, Joe cried when he discovered John had made a special trip from New York to attend.

“Talent gets you in the door but can only take you so far,” John said. “You have to believe you can do it, and Joe is very physically and mentally powerful.”

The brothers are still competitive, however, as is their father.

Whenever they get together, no matter where they are, they engage in intense, no-holds-barred contests of “Seatbelt Sprints.”

When the brothers were young, Joe Maloy Sr. would never wear his seatbelt in the car, so they devised a game in which the first person to fasten one in the car would win.

“It’s always in play, even to this day,” John Maloy said. “Whoever is driving always leaves the car unlocked, even if we’re in a bad neighborhood. All three of us will do whatever it takes to get into that car and put on our seatbelt first.”

The two brothers have a lot in common, however, starting with their love of the ocean.

That was first developed by their dad, who has been a member of the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol for 40 years.

The boys started hanging around the Beach Patrol as toddlers, eventually becoming mascots, junior lifeguards and then joining the patrol.

Their idol and mentor, then and now, is Bick Murphy, who is entering his 31st year as a Wildwood Crest lifeguard.

Murphy, 57, won the Cape May Superathlon — an annual lifeguard triathlon featuring running, rowing and swimming — a record eight times between 1993 and 2005.

Whenever he’d come to work the next day after winning a race, he’d hand his trophies to Joe and John.

“They just thought it was the neatest thing,” Murphy said with a smile. “That’s the way the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol has always been. There’s a camaraderie here, a fraternity. To see what Joe has been able to accomplish is amazing. All we did was open up a can of worms, and now we have a python. I’m so doggone proud of him.”

Maloy had dabbled in some local triathlons as a way of satisfying the competitive fire he had harbored as a collegiate swimmer. He even excelled on a national level in 2009, winning the overall title at the 2009 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In 2010, he was working as an assistant swimming coach at Boston College. Later that year, he left that job in hopes of fulfilling the dream he had been harboring since the first grade.

“In 2010, I was at a point in my life where I had to make a decision on what I wanted to do as a triathlete,” Maloy said. “I was 24 years old, and I knew that if I didn’t pursue my Olympic dream right then and there, the opportunity wouldn’t be there anymore. I had to do it.”

He moved to Philadelphia to work on his cycling skills, then joined reknowned triathlon coach Paolo Sousa in San Diego, where he still lives and trains.

“When I first found out what he was doing, I almost had a heart attack,” his father said. “He had great benefits and a pension. But he said he had to follow his dream. I said, ‘I support you in whatever you do,’ but deep inside I was a nervous wreck. As it turned out, though, it was the best decision he ever made.”

***

After he unzipped his wetsuit, Maloy donned his USA Triathlon racing suit and climbed aboard his bike for a quick spin up and down Atlantic Avenue in Wildwood Crest.

The bike he used that day was named “Black Beauty.” Maloy said he nicknames all the bikes he uses for triathlons. It’s a tradition that ensures the rider a safe and swift journey, much like when boat owners name their vessels for good luck.

The bike he’ll be riding in Rio de Janeiro, a green Cannondale model, is named “Muiraquita,” which is a green, frog-shaped stone. In Brazilian folklore, it is believed to have supernatural qualities.

All his bikes have one thing in common, however.

He always paints a daffodil on them in honor of the late Missy (Rogers) Galdenzi, a classmate at Crest Memorial who was also his first girlfiend and a good friend until her death June 1, 2015.

Maloy began to sob at the mention of his friend during the ceremony at the pavilion. When it was his turn to speak, however, the inner fortitude and determination that had carried him for so long emerged.

“I may be crying now, but I’m tough,” Maloy said. “I swear to God I’m tough. But this is not just my journey. It’s about us, it’s about my friends and family and coaches and everyone. You are all part of me, and I’ll be taking you with me. And on Aug. 18, we’re going to show the whole world what Wildwood Crest is all about.”

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Copy desk chief / comics blogger