Caleb Moraine has wanted to be a police officer since he was 10 years old.
When that moment arrived Wednesday, shortly after he turned 20, he stiffened his back so the badge could be pinned to his uniform.
And then he rose out of his wheelchair, ignoring the cancer that has dogged him relentlessly for five years, stood at attention, raised his right hand and repeated the oath new officers take as best he could, his voice barely above a whisper.
The crowd packed into the Evergreen Recreation Center in north Wichita applauded loudly, many dabbing away tears, as Caleb accepted handshakes, his parents and older brothers looking on with pride.
“It’s been a long road, a long battle for Caleb,” his mother, Renee, said. “To see him standing here today…”
Her voice broke.
As he was growing up, Caleb enjoyed lifting weights with his father, Mark, who at one point was one of the best power lifters in the state. But his legs began bothering him, so much so that Renee took him to see doctors.
“Doctors kept telling Renee the pains in his legs were growing pains,” said his aunt, Christina Collins, who took turns taking photos and wiping away tears of joy during the ceremony.
The cancer was finally discovered when he was 16. He’s had serious surgeries – including one to remove a large portion of his skull – and grueling chemotherapy regimens, but he’s remained upbeat.
Two weeks ago, the family learned the cancer is continuing to grow and chemotherapy isn’t working. That gave added poignancy to Wednesday’s ceremony declaring Caleb an honorary officer.
“From Day 1, we’ve always called him the brave warrior,” Renee Moraine said. “Several people have said he’s the strongest person they’ve ever seen,” given everything he’s been through.
“Yet he’s here right now, standing, ready to receive this honor.”
Collins said the impact of what the ceremony meant to Caleb is “immeasurable,” but could probably best be summed up by two words: “He’s standing!”
Given everything he’s been through, she said, that’s remarkable.
Officer Carlos Atondo, who got to know Caleb through Facebook, presented the city’s newest officer with a large metal shield he can hang on his wall at home. Retiring officers typically receive that honor, with their badge number on the art work.
“He’s been through a lot,” said Atondo, whose voice filled with emotion as he talked. “He’s so brave. He’s always hopeful. He’s always upbeat.”
Renee Moraine is an EMT and the family is known and respected in Wichita’s community of first responders. Collins said she’s in awe of the love and support the Moraine family has received.
“The city has just poured out love to them,” she said. “So kind, so gracious, so giving. People just drop by the house and leave things on their doorsteps. Encouraging words, encouraging rocks...
“Whoever thought a rock could be encouraging? And yet it has been.”
A spirit of service runs in the family. Caleb aspired to continue that tradition, Atondo said.
“Service to others – that’s what he talked about the most” Atondo said.
It’s why he wanted to become a police officer. Atondo put things together to make that happen.
“He’s a brave young man that’s going through a lot,” Chief Gordon Ramsay said. “It’s nice to do things like this. It means a lot to him and his family and we’re honored to do it.”