Before Joe Maloy dreamed of becoming an Olympic triathlete, he wanted to be a lifeguard.
He accomplished his goal in 2003, when he joined the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol in his hometown of Wildwood Crest, N.J. He spent the next six summers patrolling one of the busiest beaches on the East Coast.
Maloy, who will represent the U.S. in the Olympic men’s triathlon on August 18, described how being a lifeguard made him a better triathlete during a telephone interview with NBCOlympics.com.
Maloy, who said that he has saved “plenty” of lives, has seen everything from swimmers getting stuck in riptides to beachgoers cutting their feet on shells.
“You are always ready to go,” Maloy said. “You are always alert and paying attention, so when things happen, you just do it. You don’t think about it.”
Patrolling a beach that attracts crowds of up to 90,000 per day on a busy weekend prepared Maloy for the chaos of jumping into the water for the swimming leg of a triathlon.
“You have to go into it with confidence,” he said, “knowing that you are skilled enough to handle whatever will happen out there.”
Maloy is the not fastest lifeguard at swimming.
“I’m not even the fastest swimmer in my own family,” he admitted.
His younger brother, John, pushed him to get faster in the water.
Maloy pushed himself to get faster at running, practicing on the softest sand at the beach.
“I don’t know why I did it, other than it was harder,” he said. “I’m not sure it helped with my form or anything like that, but it definitely gave me the attitude that I can get it done.”
Network of supporters
When Maloy was growing up, he idolized Bick Murphy, who won the Cape May Beach Patrol Superathlon a record eight times. Now he gets to train with Murphy when he goes home.
“The support since I’ve qualified for the Olympics has been incredible,” Maloy said.
The lifeguards allow Maloy to train by swimming out past the surf. When new lifeguards are on duty, the veterans relay the message that Maloy is allowed to swim wherever he wants.
“Everybody knows me as the guy who breaks the rules,” Maloy said.