Rhianna Moreno (left), Ottawa Elementary’s “Tough Little Titan,” receives her kindergarten diploma from her teacher, Cindy Moser. The ceremony was the first time Rhianna had walked a considerable distance since being involved in an accident in December 2012. See story on A14. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader)
Rhianna Moreno (left), Ottawa Elementary’s “Tough Little Titan,” receives her kindergarten diploma from her teacher, Cindy Moser. The ceremony was the first time Rhianna had walked a considerable distance since being involved in an accident in December 2012. See story on A14. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader)

OTTAWA—Most kindergarten students’ favorite part of the school year is fairly predictable; they like recess, learning to read or making new friends. However, one Ottawa Elementary student’s favorite part of kindergarten was a testimony of her spirit and determination that earned her the nickname “Tough Little Titan.”

Rhianna Moreno and four of her family members were involved in a horrific automobile accident the day after Christmas, 2012, just east of Gilboa on State Route 224. The Gilboa and Ottawa Fire Departments, as well as Putnam County Heavy Rescue Services responded to the scene. Rhianna and her mother, Meli, were the most seriously injured. Rhianna spent four months in the hospital; her right leg was amputated, which resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair. The then-kindergarten student missed the remainder of the school year.

Ottawa Principal Dean Brinkman explained, “Rhianna was in pretty tough shape for quite a while. In May last year, I was brought to tears when she and her family came in and sat across from me, and she (Rhianna) said, “Hi.”

Rhianna enrolled as a kindergartner again this year.

Her teacher, Cindy Moser, related, “From day one, the students have treated Rhianna as an equal. As the year progressed, the number of students wanting to lend her a helping hand increased 100 percent. This support was not limited to my classroom; her acceptance and encouragement spread school-wide.”

During Fire Safety Week, firefighters visited Rhianna’s classroom. Principal Brinkman pointed Rhianna out to one of the fireman and told them what an inspiration the little girl was.

“His eyes got as big as saucers,” Brinkman recalled. “He said, ‘We were the first ones on the scene that day. We did our job so the doctors could do their jobs, but we never knew what happened to her.’”

The firefighters requested of Brinkman to be present when Rhianna walked for kindergarten graduation. The four firefighters who were first on the scene, Kevin Bellman, Tyler Benroth, Mike Metzger, and Shane Vance, along with several of their comrades, attended the ceremony in their dress uniforms.

“We go through so much,” said Metzger. “This is what makes it all worthwhile.”

And Rhianna walked, truly walked. When her name was called, the youngster pulled herself up to her walker and slowly made her way to Mrs. Moser, who handed the graduate her diploma.

There was not a dry eye in the gymnasium, except for Rhianna, who had a grin on her face that stretched from ear to ear. People clapped wildly, voicing their support and swiping at their eyes. Rhianna haltingly followed the blue line, just as each of her classmates had, in front of the crowd and back to her seat. After the ceremony, as family and friends gathered around her, Rhianna was still beaming. She thought she might be tired after such a long journey.

Rhianna’s graduation walk surprised her parents. Her father, Ryan Moreno, said his daughter had walked a little at home, and when she did, it was not far. Along the gymnasium walls, an individual silhouette of each child was accompanied by a short sentence that told his/her favorite part of the year.

Rhianna Moreno’s paper read, “My favorite part of kindergarten was walking again.”