New York City Police Officer Julissa Camacho rises each day at 5 a.m. to squeeze in a grueling hour and a half of cardio and weight training – her first of two daily workouts — before packing carefully selected meals for lunch and dinner and heading to work as a member of one of the New York City Police Department’s elite special ops units.
Since January, the South Bronx-born, New York native has been working out 7 days a week and eating cleaner than ever (lots of lean meats, spinach and asparagus) as she gears up for her first bodybuilding competition on Long Island May 4.
A former personal trainer, 35-year-old Camacho (who goes by the first name Julie) has been exercising regularly since college but decided earlier this year to take her fitness goals to a whole other level by entering the competition.
“I felt that this was a way that I could further challenge myself mentally and physically,” says Camacho, who began working out as a way to beat stress.
“The biggest challenge is the self-discipline you need,” she says. “I believe that working on your self-discipline helps you in every area of your life.”
Self-discipline helped her get to where she is in her career. After joining the NYPD in 2012, Camacho became a member of the Special Operations Division’s prestigious Strategic Response Group in 2018. The group is a highly-trained rapid deployment unit that responds to every kind of potentially dangerous situation, from active shooter scenarios to terrorist threats, in mere minutes.
“We want to make sure everyone is safe out there,” she says.
‘My Faith Has Gotten Me Where I Am Now’
To help prepare for the competition, Camacho is using the self-discipline she’s used to excel in her career — and the strength of character she developed while overcoming other challenges over the years, which for her, began early in life.
When she was just 2 years old, NYPD officers found her and her 8-year-old sister riding the subway by themselves. She, her sister and older brother were placed in a foster home and returned to their parents about six years later.
“Obviously, I was happy to be back with them,” she says. “I thought I was going to have some stability in my life. My parents found an apartment but then they couldn’t pay the rent anymore. We ended up homeless and going back and forth into the shelter system until I was 15 or 16.”
She got through those difficult times thanks to her strong faith in God, which she discovered at age 11.
Camacho was out walking in the Bronx (“At that age, I was always out by myself,” she says) when she happened upon a church that looked like a safe place to go.
“They were playing music and I went inside,” she says. “They were very welcoming. I was struggling so much and felt so lost. I just remember bawling my eyes out and asking God for help. From that moment on, I just carried on with my faith, which has gotten me to where I am now. It inspires me to continue to push forward and to do well.”
Fueled by her faith and an incredible will to succeed, Camacho became the first person in her family to graduate from high school and go on to college, where she earned an associates degree.
She’s already earned the respect of her nieces and nephews. “When they sent me happy birthday messages recently, they said, ‘You’re such an inspiration. I hope we can make the family as proud of us as you have,’” she says. “They see how I continue to challenge myself in different areas of my life, whether it be in fitness or at work.”
She credits her fellow officers with cheering her on when her motivation starts to wane. “They’ll say, ‘We’ve got a competition to win!’” she says.
When she’s at work every day, she’s also reminded just how far she’s come since those officers found her on a subway train all those years ago.
“One of the shelters I used to live in is right next door,” she says. “It’s a daily reminder of why I work so hard today. I never thought I would be here as a police officer after being in the shelter as a kid.”
Hesitant at first to open up about her background, she now says, “I feel that it’s important to share it. If I can inspire others who are struggling, I would like to. When I was younger, I used to feel broken and lost, like nothing else was going to happen for me in my life.”
She succeeded against many tough odds. “I knew that if I didn’t want to live under those circumstances anymore that I had to take control and continue going to school and trying to do the right thing to progress,” she says. “I’m so grateful for everything.”
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