Graduating from the police academy in 2012 would be the first step Paterson native Rob Littlejohn, Jr. would take to better himself for his young and growing family.
The next would be dropping nearly 100 pounds.
Although doctors initially thought Littlejohn wouldn't even be able to complete the academy at 315 pounds, he did.
And then went on to lose the weight and work for several local police agencies -- currently in his fourth year with Saddle Brook and sitting comfortably at 223 pounds.
Littlejohn says leaving his dead-end job in banking and getting in shape has given him the life he's always dreamed of -- making him a confident dad, police officer and person all-around.
He's not the only one who thinks so.
"Officer Littlejohn is a perfect example not only to highlight the improvements of his physical and mental well being, but to also encourage others to follow his lead," Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler said.
"Law enforcement officers need to be fit both physically and mentally at all times, the safety of not only themselves personally but the general public they serve and protect is dependent on it."
Littlejohn, 30, says the extra weight dubbed him the "cute chubby boy" for decades. Despite his lifelong love for playing football and basketball, he somehow always found his way over to the food trucks after games.
"I worked out my entire life -- played little league football, high school basketball and more," he said. "I just never took the eating and maintaining seriously."
His size worked to his advantage in college at William Paterson, earning him a job as a bouncer at local nightclubs.
He graduated with two business degrees in 2010 and was hired as a credit manager for Wells Fargo later that year.
"I liked sales and talking to people," Littlejohn said, "but I didn't want to be stuck behind a desk at a back. I didn't go to college for five years for this."
Littlejohn hails from a family of police officers -- his father and his uncle both former law enforcers, and his brother a state trooper. With his daughter on the way in 2012, Littlejohn set out to follow in his family's footsteps.
"I always wanted to be that father, coach and friend for my kids," Littlejohn said. "I know my kids are mimicking me, and I wanted to set the best example I could for them."
In January of that year, he weighed 315 pounds. By the time he entered the academy months later he was 292 pounds -- but could only do one pull-up and could barely keep up on runs.
"The academy was super tough for me," Littlejohn said.
"I hate running long distance and being the heaviest guy in my class didn’t help."
By the time he graduated, he was down more than 50 pounds and was beginning to see a glimmer of hope.
Littlejohn landed his first job as a deputy with the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, but left to work as an officer at Montclair State University and then with the Palisades Parkway Police.
It wasn't until 2016 when Littlejohn learned he would soon be a father for the second time -- this time to a baby boy -- that he made the effort to lose the remaining weight.
"My son was the turning point," he said. "My daughter was the spark."
A 90-day challenge at his MMA gym, Tiger Schulmann in Elmwood Park, was another motivating incentive.
Then two years into working with the Saddle Brook Police, Littlejohn knew all he had to do was to cut back his calories.
A little less barbecue sauce here, a little more exercise there, and he'd drop the weight in no time.
From January to April 2017, Littlejohn went from 273 pounds to 221.
Perhaps most impressive is that he's managed to keep it off, training several times at week at his MMA gym, The Fit Factory in Englewood and LA Fitness.
"It feels natural," the officer said. "I know how to balance it."
Littlejohn says he's seeing his hard work pay off on the job.
Two years ago weighing 280 pounds, the officer was engaged in a foot pursuit with a suspect. By the time it ended, his asthma was acting up and he was completely out of breath. He gave everything he had and he felt uncomfortable, he said.
Earlier this month, however, Littlejohn got into a scuffle with a suspect and were on the ground grappling for several minutes.
"I was winded but I wasn't tired -- I could have kept going," the officer said. "I felt like it was a trial. It was just that easy.
"I was never scared to fight but knowing I can defend myself, protect other people and help my family -- I feel I'm better equipped with my purpose as a police officer."
Think you're the fittest police officer in Bergen or Passaic counties? Know someone who is? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in the new Daily Voice series, "Fit Cops."
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