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Through illness, Marine Science senior sailing ahead with grit

Considering Lily Flack got recruited by several colleges for sailing, maintained honors and took multiple Advanced Placement courses while struggling with a Lyme disease diagnosis, it's no wonder she received the Grit Award from Marine Science Magnet High School last year.

A Stonington resident whose middle school graduating class from St. Michael School in Pawcatuck was only 20 students, Flack "was really looking for a smaller community" and desperately wanted to go to Marine Science Magnet.

After not getting selected in the random lottery for her freshman year, she and her family wrote emails to then-Principal Nicholas Spera, thinking "there might've been a back door or something, but there wasn't," Flack said.

She spent her freshman year at Stonington High School, where she was on the crew team in the fall and spring, worked as a ski instructor at Okemo Mountain Resort in the winter, and was a member of the Interact Club, a service organization. But Flack still wanted to go to MSMHS, so she applied again and, this time, got in.

But she did not get off to a good start there.

"August going into my sophomore year, I thought something was off with my body," Flack said. "I was constantly fatigued, I had terrible headaches, I was dizzy."

After three months of tests, labs and doctor's appointments, Flack said, she got a Lyme disease diagnosis in November 2017. She finally started feeling like herself again her senior year, but estimates she missed about 45 days of school between her sophomore and junior years.

"It's hard when the illness was invisible," she said. "No one really sees how sick you are. I look completely fine when I'm at school, but you don't understand I have such a bad headache or I'm so dizzy I feel like I'm going to fall down."

But she pushed through, crediting her family — mother, father and younger brother — and her teachers.

"I've definitely changed my mindset to always trying to be positive, even when things got hard, because you only get one chance at life and you've got to make the best of it," Flack said. That's the advice she would give to high school students.

She still stayed involved in school activities, participating in the yearbook, newspaper and Interact clubs her junior year.

In the fall of her sophomore year, after Hurricane Irma, she organized a beach cleanup at Napatree Point in Westerly and asked participants to donate to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands, which Flack described as "by far my favorite place to visit."

Flack grew up around boats; her father got her into sailing when she was little. She has been racing since she was 6, graduating from Long Island Sound to races all over the country. Last summer, she attended the Club 420 National, North American and other championships.

Club 420 events are ones in which two people sail on a dinghy, though Flack also is active in other kinds of events using other types of sailing vessels. She was looking forward to competing in the Newport Bermuda Race this summer, sailing 635 nautical miles with the MudRatz sailing team, but that got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the summer, she teaches kids to sail at yacht clubs that are part of the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association, and she also works as a babysitter.

In the fall, she is headed to St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she got recruited for the sailing team and plans to study biology and environmental studies. She said her illness "really opened my eyes to what it means to be a health care worker" and she hopes to help others someday as an occupational therapist.

In the meantime, Flack has a rowing machine, treadmill and StairMaster at home, and is "really working hard to get buff in the gym and train as hard as I can for college sailing."


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