Fresh from two weeks of summer camp, Graci Hansen has the golden glow of someone who has spent hours enjoying outdoor activities with family and friends. One week was spent as a camp counselor of elementary age children at Riverbend Camp. “I was able to make good connections with the kids there,” said Graci, “and the fellow counselors were really good friends of mine, so we had fun doing that together. This was the first time I was a counselor. For me it was a whole lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.”
A second week was spent as a guest at a camp for teens. “It was a very relaxed camp. It was definitely different than what I’m used to [because of Covid], but it was a good experience,” Graci said. “I always love going to camp. It convicts me and brings me closer to God. And it’s always nice to be able to get away from all my daily things and to fully listen to what God is saying. I’m looking forward to next year.”
With candor, Graci confesses, “Something I learned about myself [at camp this year] is that I lack in self-discipline. I make up all these excuses about how I ‘can’t’.” Yet as a middle sister of three girls in a busy family, her life is full of fun and interesting things that she ‘can’. She just got her driver’s license and a job at Chick-fil-A. She studies history, helps in her mom’s estate sale business, is active in her church youth group, and plays on the school softball team. She plays the ukulele, and claims to be undefeated in the card game, Dutch Blitz. “Don’t ever play me in Dutch Blitz,” she says, “because you will lose. That is the best advice I can give you. I love that game so much. It’s a super fast game. If you’re not fast, don’t play. It’s super confusing to explain, but once you get the hang of it, you will have a great time. It is really fun.”
Her eldest sister, born prematurely, has some learning and social differences that can sometimes make things challenging. It put a lot of extra responsibility on Graci, who felt she had to learn how to interpret and explain her sister’s behavior; how to be flexible and adapt, and how to help others do the same. “It can be very frustrating at times,” says Graci. “You just have to be super patient and really understanding. You have to understand they don’t think the same way as you, and remember that’s not how their brain works.” Learning patience and understanding has resulted in a strength of character that shows itself in tolerance, flexibility, gentleness and perseverance. “It’s really about patience,” Graci says. “My sisters and I are really different. We do not share a lot of common interests, so it’s easy to get upset with one another.” She tells herself, “You know you love them, so act like you love them, even when it’s hard to.”
The Hansen sisters do have this in common: they like to travel. They’ve been to West Virginia, Disney World and Disneyland, a Disney cruise and are looking forward to a trip to Colorado. “I’ve been traveling since I was a baby. Traveling has always been super exciting!” she says. At age 12, when her family took a trip to Boston, and walked the Freedom Trail, Graci discovered a passion for our country’s past. “I’ve always been kinda interested in history. I didn’t know much about it until I went to Boston, but I liked seeing all the history there. I went with my parents, we stayed at an airBnB, went to Fenway Park for a baseball game, and we got cannolis. Cannolis are super good! I would love a cannoli right now.
“I do like history. It just fascinates me. I took world history last year, and some of the stuff was super interesting, but I like US History the most. I just do. It was really the only class in 8th grade that I liked to pay attention to. My teacher was great, and I love her so much.” Graci will be entering junior year this fall, and eager to earn good grades and get back on the school softball team. “I’m not super athletic, but I try my hardest. I actually like practices more than the games. One of my good friends is on the team with me. I can’t wait for it to start up again.”
Freshman year, when her grandfather would pick her up from school, he would take her out for ice cream and tell her stories about his high-flying adventures as a pilot, a flight instructor, and how he helped his father recover and repair airplanes. “His stories fascinated me,” Graci said. “One day, he asked, ‘Would you ever be interested in flying?’ I said, ‘I have no idea! It sounds pretty scary.’ I was 15 at the time. ‘I don’t know if this is something 15 year old girls do, but I’d like to try it out.’ I’m so glad I did. Once I got in the plane, it felt right, it felt natural, and I was never nervous at all. After that Discovery Flight I knew that was what I wanted to do. I’ll never forget going up the first time. I really enjoyed it. It was a pretty big indicator that this is what I was supposed to do.
Next came practicing with her instructor, learning how to take off and land, and then her solo flight. Just ahead are flying in the rain, a night flight in Waco that will include seven touch-and-go landings, and a cross-country flight to Corsicana. “I would like to fly everywhere,” Graci muses. “I don’t want to limit myself to just staying in Texas or America. I think it would be so much fun to fly all over the world.”
Learning all the instruments and navigational tools is challenging. Graci explains, “There are so many factors that go into flying a plane. There are changing weather patterns and air spaces that get really complicated. There are so many things you have to know. My grandpa always tells me, ‘Always feel the plane. You have to do that before you take on any technical information. You have to feel the plane.’”
“My family has encouraged me throughout the whole process. My mom is always posting about my flying endeavors. But when I soloed for the first time, she looked like she was about to throw up, she was so nervous,” Graci recalled. “I don’t want to sound full of myself, but I like to think I’m a pretty good pilot.”
Graci is currently flying a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, but she has her eyes on bigger craft in the days ahead. The opportunities she considers include joining the AirForce, becoming a commercial airline pilot, or flying charter. “I have a lot of different options. I change my mind almost every day about what I want to do.” Graci continues, “I would like to say that I could be a fighter pilot, the idea sounds super cool to fly a super fast plane. Do I have the stomach for it? We’ll see one day. It would be really cool to do fun stunts. I have no idea if I would be able to do that, but it would be really fun to try that.”
“With flying, I have definitely come out of my shell a bit more,” Graci said. Her advice to someone who hesitates to try something new: “Just go ahead and do it! You never know how it’s going to be if you don’t try it. I was scared before I got in the plane. I was super nervous. But once I got in, I was glad I did it.”