The Olympics matter, but so does the ‘small stuff’

Written by Mary Beth Peabody

Olympic triathlete Joe Maloy has traveled the world in the sea, by bicycle and on foot. He knows the joy of victory, the disappointment of defeat and the uncertainty that comes with changing course.

Maloy received a hero’s welcome during a recent visit with some of his greatest fans—fellow Crusaders at Wildwood Catholic High School. Dean of Students Sal Zuccarello invoked memories of Maloy’s track and cross country, swimming and academic achievements as he introduced Maloy to the student body. “Joe’s success story is our success story,” he said to the cheering crowd.

Zuccarello presented Maloy with a plaque, a tribute to his Olympic fame and a duplicate of one that hangs among the school’s most treasured keepsakes.

Olympic triathlete Joe Maloy speaks to students at Wildwood Catholic High School.

“When I was at Wildwood Catholic, I wasn’t even the best swimmer in my family,” Maloy told the students, giving kudos to his younger brother, John.

Maloy also said he was waitlisted at Boston College and learned just two days before his high school graduation he’d been admitted. He had never visited the school but, with a leap of faith, decided to change his plans and go to Boston. He joined the swim team as a walk on.

“We know my story,” said the athlete to the audience, referring to his achievement as the leading U.S. triathlete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But Maloy wanted to share a different story, the non-linear life journey he finds more compelling—complete with flaws, disappointments and discoveries.

In 2010, Maloy left a swim team coaching position at Boston College in pursuit of his Olympic dream. Before moving to San Diego, the mecca for triathlon training, he worked in a Philadelphia restaurant and shared a one bedroom, three mattress apartment with two other athletes. As workouts, nutrition and race results became his sole focus, Maloy missed important events with friends and family, including his brother’s college graduation.

For all his hard work, Maloy’s worst year for triathlon was 2011, eclipsing any chance for a spot at the 2012 Games.

“The low points are tests, not indictments of us as people,” he told the audience.

The thrill of making the 2016 team was one of Maloy’s many rewards. When asked about his most satisfying Olympic experience, Maloy said, “It’s not in the accomplishment. It’s in the relationships.”

Those relationships included people from different cultures and walks of like, but also his friends and family from Wildwood Catholic and Boston College.

“I was in a lot of pain and further back [in the race] than I wanted to be,” he said, recalling being on the run course in the middle of Rio. And then he heard chants of “Let’s go Joe!” Maloy said that moment was the highlight of his Olympic experience.

He reminded his audience that he and they have a community of support in their Wildwood Catholic family. “Being from a small school is an advantage,” he said. “Everything matters. The way you treat people matters.” Maloy places a high value on the “small stuff,” like holding doors open and the way you look at people when you talk. “That’s the culture I loved about Catholic school,” he said.

After meeting with students, Maloy shared more about his post-Rio journey, when he became increasingly aware of the cost that comes with the lifestyle of a professional athlete. “I realized I’m in a time in my life where career and stability and my relationship with my brother, parents, friends… all things that I’m not investing in now. If I want them down the road, I need to pay attention to that.”

Maloy is now focusing on new career options and putting a premium on time with family and friends. “It’s more important to have those relationships than to make another team,” he said.

Mary Beth Peabody is communications and marketing manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.

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