EMERSON, N.J. -- Tyler Monroy of Emerson was 22 years old with a bright future ahead of him in 2014.
At the time, that wasn't how it felt.
His days were dark and dragging. He was balancing a trio of dead-end jobs and spent his days cleaning high school bathrooms, busing food and working security at a mall.
Monroy's only glimmer of hope was the possibility that one day, he'd hear back from the New Jersey Corrections Department on his application.
Going to the gym and listening to motivational speeches he found online were Monroy's lifelines at the time.
But now that he's landed on his feet as a correctional officer in Newark's Northern State Prison, Monroy's lifelines have become the foundation of his every day.
"No matter which path you take in life, you're always going to encounter obstacles," said Monroy, 26 originally of New Milford.
"It's these times that we grow stronger as a person and push through, because nothing -- not even pain -- lasts forever."
Monroy had just graduated from Kean University with his bachelor's degree when he applied for a job with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
He wasn't sure when he'd hear back and even if he did, the job wasn't promised.
Monroy watched as friend after friend landed profitable careers, as he worked 14 hour days as a high school custodian, food runner and mall security guard.
Hearing the stories of successful people who were once where he was, along with improving his own physical fitness, were what Monroy said kept him barely hanging on.
"I knew that if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other," he said, "I would eventually get to the end."
Two very long years later, Monroy received a letter in the mail saying that he was eligible for a job in law enforcement.
"I could have easily given up," he said. "I could still be miserable working where I was working."
He's glad he didn't.
Monroy enrolled in the Sea Girt Police Academy in July 2016, but knew that journey had only just begun.
Athleticism has always come easily to him, as he was on the soccer, basketball and swim teams while a student at New Milford High School.
The natural athlete in Monroy shined in the police academy, graduating that November as the fittest cadet in his class.
"That was the proudest moment of my life," he said.
Out of the 200 people in his class, Monroy could run the fastest, do the most push-ups and the most sit-ups.
He was able to do 57 sit-ups and 100 push-ups in one minute, run a mile-and-a-half in 9:03, and a 300-meter spring in 42 seconds.
The day after graduating from the academy, Monroy began training at Newark's Northern State Prison, where he works today.
He says that the healthy habits he formed at rock bottom and refined in the academy are now what prepare him for work every day -- mentally and physically.
"You have to stay fit," he said. "When a code pops off, you have to run to it -- you can't stand there and watch."
He supervises nearly 80 inmates each day, all with different personalities, he said: "We have to be physically strong, and strong minded."
Two years ago, Monroy's girlfriend suggested he try CrossFit, which combines heavy weight lifting and calisthenics.
There is a large competitive aspect of CrossFit, which Monroy also enjoys.
But he doesn't do it for the glory.
Monroy's job as a correctional officer is hands-on, he said. It's not uncommon for inmates to become aggressive, and Monroy says he has to be prepared for anything.
"If you're out of shape and can't be relied on," he said, "you won't help the situation."
He says CrossFit changed his life because it forces him to focus on his weaknesses all while preparing him for what he might face at work in Newark.
"Competition is tough nowadays," he said. "You have to learn to dominate."
Monroy has become a beloved member of the gym, coach Joe Ghaznavi said.
"I'm more impressed with Tyler's humble nature than his athletic ability," Ghaznavi said. "He is a very warm and welcoming person who greets everyone with open arms.
"Top notch athlete with a heart of gold."
Monroy says the pain he overcame between 2014 and 2016, along with the pain he faces in his workouts remind him that he's still here -- and the best is yet to come.
"'You will always grow through what you go through'," he said, citing one of his favorite artists, Tyrese Gibson.
"Excuses are nothing more than a reason to fail," Monroy continued. "No matter how hard it gets, I will finish."
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