When she was 10 years old, Stephanie Wrenn’s uncle took her on a flight in a small plane as a Christmas gift. Ever since, she’s been looking toward the skies.
Wrenn, 32, of Raleigh will compete this month in the 39th annual Air Race Classic, a 2,529-mile race for female pilots. The journey will begin in Virginia and end in Alabama three days later.
“It’s exhilarating,” Wrenn said. “This race is a way to step out of my comfort zone.”
Wrenn grew up in Burlington and earned a degree in communications from UNC-Chapel Hill. After five years of training, she earned her pilot’s license in 2011.
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She’s an active member of the Ninety-Nines, Inc. International Organization of Women Pilots, a group that promotes aviation through education, support and scholarships.
For the past two years, Wrenn has worked as an instructor at FlightGest, a flight school at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. She also manages Massage LuXe in North Raleigh.
She said she always wanted to race, but competitors must own a plane and have a flight partner. She didn’t have either.
Wrenn found Eva Gardner of Fredericksburg, Va., on the Air Race Classic’s Facebook page. Gardner also needed a partner for the race and thought she and Wrenn would make a great team.
The two met in person last summer at the annual EAA Airventure Oshkosh in Wisconsin, where hundreds of aviation enthusiasts from across the country came together.
“I couldn’t ask for a better race partner,” Gardner said. “I’m so happy I found her.”
The duo has completed a few short flights to help prepare them for the four-day race, which begins June 22. They will make the journey in Lola, Gardner’s Piper Cherokee 140.
A total of 53 teams are set to compete in the race.
Wrenn and Gardner are trying to raise $5,000 to cover race expenses such as fuel, plane maintenance, hotels and food. They are selling T-shirts and also accepting donations through GoFundMe, a website in which people can donate to causes or projects.
Wrenn said she thinks she is as prepared as she can be.
“I’ve talked to so many (pilots) about the race before, but you never know what to expect until you’re actually behind the controls,” she said.
Wrenn is passionate about encouraging women to become pilots.
“Women would make really good pilots because we know how to make good decisions and know how to multitask, and a lot about being a pilot is to make thoughtful decisions,” she said.
It’s become more popular for women to become pilots, although many more men take to the skies. In 1960, one in 21,417 women held a pilot certificate, according to Women of Aviation Worldwide Week. Now, the figure is one in 5,623 women.
The Air Race Classic was originally called the Women’s Air Derby in 1929, with a route from California to Ohio. There were 20 female pilots. Among them: Amelia Earhart.
This year’s race will take Wrenn and other competitors through 10 states, including a stop in Hickory.
Wrenn and Gardner are optimistic as they fly their first race together.
The team made its goal clear on the GoFundMe page: “We are racing to win, but also for the joy we get from flying itself.”
Hendricks: 919-836-5755; Twitter: @ashleytalks_