By Tim Kelly
If you thought Sea Isle City was an unlikely home for a national class equestrian champion, you might want to think again.
Lily Capone, a 12-year-old resident of Sea Isle, has proven herself to be a champion equestrian, and will soon take her riding skills to the national stage.
Lily’s accomplishments seem even more remarkable given that she has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic connective tissue condition which can potentially lead to aortic rupture.
Her Mom, Melissa Capone, and two siblings, 21-year old Rhys, and 4-year-old Connor, also have the condition. Melissa and her husband Kevin have two other children, Clare, 11, and Regan, 8, who are Marfan-free.
As if her battle with Marfan Syndrome weren’t tough enough, Lily has endured a major surgery from scoliosis and suffered complications from the disease. She hasn’t allowed it to slow her down.
A member of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA), she recently competed as a member of the Star Hollow IEA team, representing Star Hollow Stables in Cape May Court House.
The facility offers equestrian training and also has its own competitive team, coached by Abby Revoir Sykes. Sykes is also affiliated with Starfish Equine Rescue, an equine advocacy and rescue organization in Ocean View.
In a recent competition, Lily competed for the Star Hollow Middle School team and qualified for the IEA Region 8 Finals. She is home-schooled in cooperation with the Ocean City public schools.
The Finals were held recently at Dream Park, in Logan Township, N.J. There, she placed first in her class and qualified to advance to the Zone 11 Finals competition, and a shot at advancing for the national level for the competition.
In equestrian competition, the participants are assigned a horse at random that they have never seen before and put the animal through a number of commands. They must walk the horse, do two forms of trot, two forms of cantor and turn the horse around to travel in the reverse direction.
Riders must respond at once to the commands, which come in random order.
Lily, who has been riding since age 2, and got her sister Regan into riding as well, has a certain chemistry with horses that she can’t really explain.
“It’s hard to put into words; you just figure it out,” Lily said. “Every horse is different, and you just have to figure out how to make the horse do what you want it to do.”
“I was really excited to make Nationals and I still am,” she added. “I’ve been practicing, and I even have a countdown going on how long until (the competition).”
Her mom’s reaction may have been a bit more pronounced.
“The world stopped turning for a while and I was just in utter disbelief,” Melissa Capone said. “She is a great reflection of her hometown and Cape May County. It is an amazing accomplishment.”
At the Zone 11 Finals, which took place on March 30 and 31 at Swan Lake Stables in Littlestown, Pa., Lily took second place out of approximately 20 competitors and earned a berth in the Nationals.
“When she got off the horse, she said, ‘I need three Advils right now!”’ Melissa Capone recalled. “She was riding in such pain, but you never would have known it from watching her compete.”
Lily had titanium rods inserted in her back to help stabilize the scoliosis, and shrugged off the pain during her event.
With the second-place finish in the Zone competition, she earned a spot among a talented group of only 16 riders – champions from other regional competitions across the United States.
The Nationals, formally known as the IEA Hunt Seat National Finals, are set for April 26 through April 28 in Harrisburg, Pa., at the Farm Show Arena complex.
No matter where she finishes in the final standings, Lily will no doubt put up a spirited effort and continue to make her family, friends and local fans in Sea Isle very proud of her efforts.
At the April 23 City Council meeting in Sea Isle, Lily will be honored with a formal presentation by members of the governing body and Mayor Leonard Desiderio.