We all have things in life we wish we could do over, or halcyon days we’d love to revisit. Wendy Caldwell is one of the very few who gets to do that.
At 54, Caldwell is the Houston Police Department’s oldest rookie cop — a job she also had 25 years ago.
On July 21, 1993, Caldwell, who was then 29, graduated from the police academy in the top 10 students in her class, and went on to join the mounted patrol division. “For me, it was the best job on the planet. Where else can you get to be a police officer and ride a horse in the same day? It was perfect for me,” she recalled in an interview for the ABC News special The Real Rookies.
But a few years into the job, Caldwell became a mom and decided being home with her kids mattered more to her. “It was an extremely hard decision for me. I wanted to do both, but I realized that my children were more important,” Caldwell said. “That time that I got to spend with them was absolutely golden for me. I’ll never be able to replace that, so that’s something, those memories that I have with my kids, I’ll have forever.”
Fast forward to late 2015, when Caldwell was 52, her marriage was looking shaky, and she needed to work out how to support herself with her “stay-at-home mom” resume, as she puts it. Rejoining the force would require repeating the whole six and a half months of police academy again, due to her long absence, but she knew what she had to do.
“I think for most people, the six and a half months they spend in the police academy are the longest 10 years of their life,” said Michael Barton, one of Caldwell’s fellow cadets. “It’s grueling. It’s never-ending. It’s very difficult. It’s very stressful, mentally and physically.”
Caldwell found she still had her strength, shooting abilities and driving skills, but the mental aspect of starting over was tough.
“[K]nowing that I had already earned this, that was hard. It was a mental game for me big time,” she said.
And her determination sure inspired her younger classmates. “I mean, if a 52-year-old woman is going to beat you, and you’re 25 years old, then that’s pretty embarrassing, quite frankly,” said fellow cadet Michael Barton.
Caldwell didn’t come away unscathed, though. At one point, her leg was broken during training.“The thought that crossed my mind was, ‘I’m done. This is it. This is going to end it. I’m not going to be able to graduate. This is the biggest bone in your body. How are you going to come back from that?’” she said. “I had no idea, but my thought process was, ‘I’m done.’”
But come back she did, graduating 17 out of a class of 67.
Watch the story of Wendy Caldwell’s unusual journey to the force in the videos below:
Read the full story at ABC.