EDMOND — Sarah Rencken wanted to be a part of law enforcement since she was a child.
“I didn't know what organization to be with until I met a trooper at my church and he really influenced me,” she said. “The patrol is a really tight-knit group and I really liked that about them. They are always there for each other, kind of like a family.”
Rencken, 27, of Owasso, was one of 40 cadets who graduated from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's academy in a ceremony Thursday at Memorial Road Church of Christ. She worked as a paramedic in Claremore before applying for the academy.
She also played soccer for years, including at Oral Roberts University. At 13, she tore her ACL. Because of the damage she suffered from playing soccer, Rencken had a total knee replacement in October 2009.
Though she does not have full range of motion in her knee, Rencken said it works good enough to do her new job.
“I wouldn't be here if I didn't get it replaced, that's for sure,” she said. “It did a lot better than I expected it to. Toward the end (of the academy), it got a little bit sore but we were all pretty beat up at the end just because it was so demanding.”
Rencken was awarded best academic achievement of the class at graduation. She is one of five new female troopers, the most women to graduate from an academy, officials said.
“It feels amazing to just make an impact on the patrol in that way. We are increasing the female ranks by 33 percent,” she said.
The graduation ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Capt. Rodrick “Pete” Norwood. Norwood, 42, who died in March, was the Public Safety Department's legislative liaison at the state Capitol.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael C. Thompson reminded the new troopers to be examples in their communities.
“Everything you will do from this day forward is going to be under scrutiny. That's not a bad thing, because all you've got to do is go out, work hard and do the right thing. If you make a mistake, learn from it and go on,” Thompson said. “You guys are going to go out and be great role models, because you are going to do what you signed up to do and you're going to do what you swore to do.”
Gov. Mary Fallin commended the new troopers for their decisions to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
“It requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. You put in long hours,” Fallin said. “There probably were some days that you wondered, ‘Why in the heck are they making me do this?' and probably some days of ‘Can I do this?' But you all have proven that you are up for the task and that you are committed, dedicated.”
20 weeks of training
Trooper Cody Willis, chosen as the class spokesman, told stories of the cadets' time during their 20-week training and the bonds they formed.
“I distinctly remember one counselor asking us if we knew how to eat an elephant. Nobody knew the answer to that. He said ‘you eat it one bite at a time,' and he told us to keep that mind as we go through this academy,” Willis said.
The new troopers will be paired with a senior trooper for three months to learn the ropes in the area they will patrol.
“We aren't just going to throw them out there and have them get started,” trooper Betsy Randolph said. “They are actually going to learn that county of assignment with that senior trooper — from taking someone into custody to taking them to jail, booking them in, and going through the court system with them.”
The patrol received 590 applications for next year's academy and will select about 50 cadets, Randolph said.
“Becoming a state trooper is a dream some of us have had since we were young,” Willis said. “There is something about chasing cars and arresting bad guys that appeal to us for some reason. This is one of those hero jobs that everyone seems to want and most adults wish they could do.”