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Kilian Duclay sails ahead by helping veterans

Walt Whitman High senior Kilian Duclay at Oakcliff

Walt Whitman High senior Kilian Duclay at Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay on June 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

Kilian Duclay knows well the power of the sea. It has a hold over him that he wants others to feel, too.

Duclay, a student at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station and one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors, has spent the past two years introducing military veterans to his family's pastime, sailing on Oyster Bay, as a form of therapy.

"It clears my mind," Duclay, 18, said of sailing. "I don't think of anything. That's a reason why we decided to bring veterans, PTSD-suffering veterans. If it's therapeutic for us, it must be therapeutic for them."

Duclay, who lives in Huntington Station, said his family of six has taken roughly 50 veterans on sailing trips, including a handful of regulars who come every week. Many are Vietnam veterans in their 60s, he said, though some served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Duclay and brother Sean, 16, are in the process of incorporating their organization, Sail Ahead, into a nonprofit. When he begins his freshman year at Stony Brook University -- where he plans to major in atmospheric and oceanic sciences -- Duclay said he is looking forward to also keeping Sail Ahead afloat.

The Duclays operate out of Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay. In the winter, the brothers use a small fleet of Hobie 16s -- sleek, two-man sailboats that offer "more the adrenaline-junky kind of experience," Duclay said. In the summer, they ride on the family's more spacious 40-foot Beneteau sailboat.

Duclay said he started sailing with his parents as an infant and began learning the sport at age 6 or 7. Two years ago, he raced a 74-foot catamaran around an island in France.

But he said dismal statistics about veterans -- among them that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs -- began to stick in his head, prompting him to change sailing from a hobby to a mission.

The Duclays reached out to the nonprofit New York State Troopers Marine Corps Association, which connected the family with some veterans. They also contacted Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and the Northport VA Medical Center.

Duclay said he liked watching some veterans find moments of peace out on the bay. But he said they had a way of humbling him, just like the sea did.

"I can't really explain it, but I always think that when they were in war, when they were fighting for our country, they were my age," he said. "They were 18, 19, 20. I think, 'Holy cow, if I went to war, like they did at my age, I would hope there would be people like me who wanted to help.' "


"I have a European family. My dad is French; my mom's parents are from Spain and Cuba. We're really close. Everything we do is always together. I need that close friendship and that love for one another, and I guess that's why I put so much love into the veterans."


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