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A Weighty Decision
If Mike Robertson didn’t do something soon about his weight, the strain on his heart would kill him.

Mike Robertson got the call he had waited for all his life in July 2008. “The Toronto Police Service was offering me a position,” he recounts. Mike was so stunned, he couldn’t speak.

Angela and Mike on graduation day.

“I’d waited decades for that telephone to ring, and for the longest time, I’d despaired of it ever happening,” reflects Mike. “But God had a plan.”

Insurmountable odds

Mike was the fourth of five children born to Salvation Army parents. Part of the music section at Toronto’s Agincourt Community Church, he and his three older brothers, younger sister and father all played in the same band. “When my grandmother was too frail to come to the corps, the six of us would go and stand outside her apartment and serenade her.”

For as long as he could remember, Mike’s dream was to become a police officer. “I’ve always wanted to help people,” he explains. “When I worked for The Salvation Army as a youth director and in community and family services, I was able to do that on one level, but I’d always hoped I could also protect and serve people as a police officer.”

As the years passed, Mike’s dream lay dormant. He dropped out of high school without obtaining his diploma, a prerequisite to any future in law enforcement. And by the time Mike married his wife, Angela, and became the father of two daughters, Charlotte and Mackenzie, he had gained too much weight. “I was working two jobs, eating the wrong foods and I wasn’t exercising. The pounds started to pile on and I couldn’t get them off.” By 2006, Mike’s five-foot-four frame was supporting 310 pounds.

“I was as tall as I was round,” Mike chuckles now. “That stopped me from pursuing my dream.”

Step in the right direction

“The weight was putting a tremendous strain on my heart,” Mike says. “I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, I wasn’t going to be around much longer for my wife or daughters.”

The turning point came one day when Mike was playing with his daughters. “I couldn’t hold Mackenzie close to me because my stomach was so big,” he recalls. “That made me sad. And Charlotte wanted a piggyback ride but she couldn’t get her arms around me. I realized I couldn’t be the father they needed me to be. Enough was enough.”

With a new resolve, Mike evaluated various weight-loss regimens, consulted their family doctor and talked to a surgeon. The surgeon told him bluntly that diet and exercise would kill him because of the added strain it would put on his heart. After evaluating the options, gastric bypass surgery seemed the only solution.

The doctors counselled that surgery wasn’t a cure, but rather a way to get him where he needed to be. Mike agreed and was referred to a clinic in New York City in late October 2006.

Alone in a strange city, Mike was understandably nervous as he was prepped for surgery. But as he was wheeled into the operating room, a wonderful sense of calm came over him. “I knew everything was going to be all right,” he recalls.

It was only afterward that he found out how many people around the world had prayed for him that day, from Salvationist acquaintances in Papua New Guinea and family in New Zealand to people in his corps and around the country. His father was in the middle of a business meeting in British Columbia when he interrupted the proceedings to ask his associate to pray with him for his son. “Dad had no way of knowing, but it was exactly when my surgery started,” marvels Mike.

“I knew then that while God had gotten me to this point, he wasn’t finished with me yet. This was just another step in the right direction.”

A dream achieved

The results of the operation surpassed the doctors’ most optimistic calculations. They hoped that Mike would lose 120 pounds over the course of a year. Incredibly, he lost 150 pounds in half that time.

Mike now and as he looked in 2006.

“As I started losing weight and getting into shape,” says Mike, “I realized that the rest of my life was waiting for me. The long-lost dream I had as a boy of becoming a police officer was actually a real possibility.”

The one hurdle that remained was his lack of a high-school diploma. Mike tackled that while recuperating from surgery. Every spare moment was spent studying for his General Educational Development (GED) test, with Angela by his side. With her help and motivation, Mike aced the GED in 2007.

“Getting my GED was wonderful, but the smartest thing I ever did was ask Angela to marry me,” smiles Mike.

With that final barrier out of the way, Mike tackled physical and written tests in preparation for the police academy. Mike passed them with ease and submitted his application in late January 2008. Six months passed, with Mike on tenterhooks the entire time as he waited for the results.

“When I finally got the call, it was awesome,” Mike says.

Mike headed to the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ont., for three months of intensive training. Classes in federal and provincial law, firearms, tactics and self-defence were followed by gruelling physical workouts that included five-to-eight-kilometre runs. While Mike was not the oldest recruit, the pace was exhausting.

“I kept reminding myself that, two years ago, I never could have imagined I’d be in the position I was now. That kept me going.”

Mike’s hard work resulted in him placing in the top 25 percent of his class.

The graduation ceremony was held at Toronto’s Old Fort York on January 8. “That was an exciting day, having my family watch me receive my badge from Chief of Police William Blair.” Assisting with the presentation was Mike’s mentor, Grant Waddell, who is a Salvationist, close family friend and retired chief of police for the Niagara Region. “He’s someone I looked up to all my life,” says Mike. “Having him present me with my badge made it that much more special a day.”

God’s hand

Mike is now a fourth-class constable, the start of a three-year process that will lead to him becoming a first-class constable.

Assigned to the Primary Response Unit (PRU), Mike and his colleagues are the first responders whenever a 9-1-1 call is placed. “We do it all,” he says proudly. “From responding to domestic disturbances and armed robberies to giving out traffic tickets.”

When asked how he can be a Christian and a police officer, he responds, “How can a Christian not want to be a cop? We meet people at some of their worst times of their lives. I might not be able to verbally express my faith, but there’s no stopping me expressing it through my actions.

“There are a lot of people hurting out there,” he continues, “and through my words, through my actions, I can help them. Just one kind act can make all the difference in someone’s life. If I can do that, I can be the hand and voice of God to the people of Toronto.”

Ken Ramstead is the editor of Faith & Friends.

Originally published in Salvationist, May 28, 2009.




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