Klarkowski isn't easily rattled, for one thing. Viewing her job as a privilege and not a right helps keep things in perspective, something many young people don't have, she said.
"I'm having fun," she said.
Having raised a child also helps her in her job. She finds she's particularly adept at helping parents who have called police for help with their teenage children.
"I can relate to them and tell them something that worked for me," she said.
She said she often finds herself telling parents that, 10 years down the road, when the children are grown, "it will be worth everything you're doing."
Nancy Hecker, coordinator for a career-counseling program conducted by the AARP Foundation, said people who change careers later in life often face age discrimination, lack technological savvy and have physical limitations.
Making the switch successfully requires a "fire in your belly," she said.
Department officials said Klarkowski was named Rookie of the Year based on her passionate approach to her work.
"Wendy's the kind of officer where right out of the gates she's already doing a great job, applying herself as much as she can, but still comes to you as a supervisor and asks, what can I do better?" said Sgt. Bert Anzini, her first supervisor.
"The person that she is, the character she has and her work ethic, it's just phenomenal."
Surprise Police Chief Mike Frazier said that in his three-decade career, he's seen men in their 40s and 50s become officers.
But Klarkowski is the first woman he's known to become an officer in middle age.
"For her, age doesn't really matter," Frazier said. "She's just committed and has the drive that it takes. You have to think, if she was 100 years old, would she try to go for it?"
He praised her as highly motivated.
"There's never any of this idleness, if you will," he said. "She's just always engaged in trying to do the work of the day."
Klarkowski, wary of skeptics, is a bit self-conscious about saying she's "living the dream."
"For me, it's the truth," she said. "It's a dream I've had for 30-something years. If I could go back and do it again, I would do it exactly the same way."
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com
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