One question I’m often asked is: “Why do you love being a professional triathlete?”
Normally I’ll give a rehearsed answer about how I love representing myself, my family, and my country in the races. In some cases I’ll reference how interesting the travel can be if that’s what I think will strike a cord with my audience. Often saying what people expect to hear is the surest way to avoid a more serious conversation—one which you have neither the time nor the willingness to engage.
There’s truth in those answers, and that’s why I get away with giving them so often. Who wouldn’t love getting to race for his/her country at exotic locales all over the world? Just a few weeks ago I started a race diving headfirst into Tokyo Bay—that alone should be enough to convince anyone this life is awesome, right? Except for maybe the unfortunate Japanese fisherman, not too many people are afforded the opportunity to test those waters. I’m a kid from tiny Wildwood Crest, NJ—of course I love seeing the world. When the answers seem to make sense, why ask for clarification?
Each day I choose to work towards being a better triathlete and competitor is a day I choose against something else. Choosing to race in New Zealand, China and Japan this spring has simultaneously meant choosing against a graduation celebration with my family, a close friend’s marriage, and time with a special someone in San Diego.
The choices I make each day define me, and I wasn’t sure I liked my direction. I started asking myself, “Am I choosing triathlon results over my relationships? How are my daily decisions helping me toward my long-term ‘life’ goals?” I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I decided the questions were important enough to warrant a total re-evaluation. I reached out to those I love and trust—my family, my friends, and my coach. With their help and guidance, I realized the problem wasn’t what I was doing. The problem was how I was doing it.
When I graduated Boston College, David McCullough gave some great advice in his commencement address.* Titled, “The Love of Learning,” the historian’s advice that kept popping into my head was:
Facts alone are never enough. Facts rarely if ever have any soul. In writing or trying to understand history [or sport] one may have all manner of “data,” and miss the point. One can have all the facts and miss the truth. It can be like the old piano teacher’s lament to her student, “I hear all the notes, but I hear no music.”
Triathletes live in a world of results and splits, and I had grown obsessed with the work. Paces and times preoccupied my thoughts. I thought if I could just run X:XX pace or bike XX miles/hour I’d get the results I wanted. After working my butt off to achieve these training goals, I expected the results to automatically follow. I became so consumed with the facts and data that I forgot the thing that makes for truly great results. I forgot that great achievements—in sport, in art, in work, and in life—are great because of the spirit and heart that goes into them. It is something different for every individual, and I needed to reconnect with what “it” was for me.
I absolutely love some aspects of what I do, and others I don’t. Of course I don’t love making choices that physically isolate me from my family and friends. I don’t love training so hard for so many days in a row that I lose the energy to be myself. What I love, what keeps me making these choices, is my love of learning. I love learning about myself through my experiences as a professional triathlete, and I’m not finished yet. I want a spot on the starting line at the 2016 Olympics.
My mission, what makes me feel alive when I’m racing a triathlon, is setting an example to those around me that says, “Decide you want something, and accept that you might fail. Let the process change you. It’s about having the courage to continually discover yourself through the struggle.”
This spirit drives me to be a better Joe Maloy. I’m not going to be a professional triathlete forever, but, for better or for worse, I’m stuck with being Joe Maloy. It’s who I am during the races, but more importantly it’s who I am during all the other times too. Maybe that’s what love is all about. It’s deciding you want something, opening up and accepting that failure and hurt are always possibilities, but then going for it anyway.
I don’t have it all figured out, but that’s the point. Later on in McCullough’s address he quoted Abigail Adams, “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought with ardor and attended with diligence.” Through these struggles—both personal and professional—I’m learning what success means for me. The choices I’ve made thus far have allowed me to both fill my life with incredible people and achieve great triathlon results. These two things do not have to be exclusive. For me to be at my best, I need both.
With the continued support of those I love and a whole lot of “ardor,” I’ll continue moving in that direction. Thinking things through, involving those I love, and working with everything I’ve got will be my recipe for growth. Of course it won’t be easy—nothing worth achieving ever is. The process will make me a better brother, son, boyfriend, friend, and example to others. This will make me a better Joe Maloy.
*I will neither confirm nor deny any accounts I was not paying attention when the speech was being delivered—let’s just say it’s a good thing we write things down. Here’s a link to the full text: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/08/McCullough_BCCommencement08.pdf