Then when the economy tanked in 2007, he lost his job. But even worse, when he looked into becoming a police officer again, he discovered he had grown past the allowable age in Michigan of 35. “I was 39, and I had nothing left. There was just my Jeep and everything I had left I could fit into it,” he says.
Sean was forced to move back in with his dad in the town he was born in. “I was sleeping in the same bedroom I was sleeping in when I was a teenager,” Sean recalls. “I felt like a total failure.”
Sean was devastated. In only a few months, he lost 25 pounds, broke out in shingles, and was paralyzed by stress. When his father found him crying in the garage, he decided it was time for a dose of tough love. “I didn’t raise a quitter,” he said. “I am going to give you 50 minutes to cry, puke, and do whatever you need to get it all out. Then from here on we go forward.”
With his father’s encouragement, Sean pulled himself together and went down to the local library the next week in search of a new job and a new dream. Then, as he was sitting in the library staring at a computer screen, it happened–the miracle email. It was from a friend whom he had not heard from in years. The subject line read, “Do you still want to be a police officer?”
The old friend lived in Phoenix, where there were billboards all over town advertising for police officers. There was no maximum qualifying age. “Phoenix was a world away–2,100 miles and three time zones from St. Ignace,” says Sean. “But here, at last, was one more chance. I felt reborn.”
The obstacles had not entirely dissipated, however. The test to enter the academy was in three weeks; a good part of it was physical, and he was completely out of shape. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Sean says. “But I also knew I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who gets the chance of a lifetime and then blows it when the pressure is on. I was determined to succeed.”
Sean immediately began training, setting a daily running regimen of a mile and a half–a key part of the physical requirement. “The first day I made it halfway, cramped up, and threw up on the side of the road,” he recalls. “I went home and broke down in tears. But the next day I just pushed it and made it all the way.”
Three weeks later when he arrived in Phoenix, Sean was a man physically, mentally, and emotionally transformed. He was so excited about being there, he forgot to reset his watch for the different time zone and showed up two hours early for the test. Recalls Sean: “The sergeant said, ‘I love your gung-ho spirit.’”
First Sean completed the two-hour written exam, which he passed easily. Then it was time for the real challenge: 50 situps and 50 pushups in 60 seconds each; a grueling obstacle course featuring six-foot walls; and finally that 1.5-mile run. All in 106-degree Arizona heat, up against applicants half his age.
An hour later, Sean, drenched in sweat and ready to collapse, crossed the finish line. “I was miserably hot and totally exhausted but you couldn’t take the smile off my face,” Sean recalls. The next day, he flew back to Michigan, packed up all his belongings in his Jeep, and, with a $500 loan from his mother, headed out to Arizona. But not before an incredible and unforgettable send off by his father.
“He took two tokens out of his pocket for the toll to get across the bridge a few miles down the road, and he said, ‘Here’s one token to get you there, and one for the day when you return a success.’”
On Nov. 16, 2007, Sean graduated from the police academy. And when his father arrived for the triumphant event, the first thing Sean did was place his badge in his father’s hands, just as his father had placed the tokens a few months earlier. He said, “I am back. Here is my token to you.”
The next week Sean flew back to Michigan and went to the home of his dad’s friend Paul, the now-retired police officer who had inspired him so many years ago. He proudly showed Paul his badge. “It took me 35 years,” Sean told him. “But a promise is a promise.”
The following year Sean received a medal for rescuing an abused girl, and he was recently promoted to detective, investigating crimes against children–a mission he feels he was always meant to follow, no matter how long it took.
And he found the love of his life–a nurse from Michigan with three beautiful children–and married her a year later. “How many people can say they live their life’s dream?” Sean reflects. “I did it, thanks to a whole lot of family and friends who never stopped believing in me.
“It just proves that it’s never too late.”
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