SWANTON — Lilly McAllister isn’t one to back down from a challenge. This spring, as COVID-19 sent college students home, McAllister set her hand to woodworking.

“I’ve been doing this for a little less than a month,” said McAllister, “I’ve helped my dad build things around the house in the past, but I’ve never done it myself.

“I was thinking about buying furniture for my dorm room or an apartment, but I decided to try building some,” explained McAllister.

After watching some videos on YouTube, McAllister purchased a table saw, chop saw, drill, jointer, and a Kreg-jig and the materials she needed to complete her first project.

“I made my first dining table for my mom two weeks ago. She loved it, and when she sent it to her friends, they loved it!”

McAllister posted photos of her ideas on Facebook Marketplace and other social media platforms and began receiving requests for custom items immediately.

“I love the custom aspect. When people send me photos of what they’d like to have made, I enjoy making it happen.”

A photo of a blanket ladder spurred McAllister’s next endeavor. She posted it and had 14 orders flood in the first day.

After completing the ladders, she began work on a dining table for a customer. She now has three tables and accompanying benches on order, and she’s paid off all her tools.

Buying the tools was the easy part--finding the wood requires some hunting.

“I have to go to different stores to find the good stuff,” said McAllister. “It takes me about three hours to look through the lumber and find the boards that are good for building.”

McAllister can assemble a dining table in two days; stain and poly add another two days with drying time.

“I find a photo of what I want to make and figure out how to put it together. Once it’s assembled, I love staining it and making something beautiful that people will enjoy.”

The downtime she’s had with UVM’s closure has allowed her to explore her craft.

“It’s been a good thing; it keeps me on a schedule, and I can do it right at my house.”

McAllister has never had a lot of downtime. As a freshman, she played three sports at BFA.

“Basketball was my sport. I’d played AAU and Mini Metro for Shawn Earl, who took over the varsity team at BFA the first year I was there,” said McAllister.

“It was great to play for Shawn. We went through all four years at BFA together; it was special because we started and ended together.”

At the end of that basketball season, the Comets faced CVU at Patrick, falling in the DI title game.

That spring, McAllister qualified for states in the 100 meters, the high jump, and the long jump in track and field.

In her sophomore year, McAllister played varsity soccer and made a return trip to Patrick with the basketball team.

“That was my breakout year. I improved and gained more experience through AAU and brought that to the court at BFA,” said McAllister.

McAllister made it to states once more in track and field but decided it was her last year; she wanted to focus on basketball.

While preparing for an AAU tournament in Pennsylvania, McAllister suffered a devastating injury in practice. Going up for a layup, she tore her ACL, MCL, and meniscus and dented bones in her knee.

McAllister spent a month in a brace to allow her meniscus to heal before surgery. After three surgeries, she was finally able to begin recovery.

“My leg wouldn’t straighten, so they eventually reopened the incisions and removed the scar tissue to allow my knee to straighten.”

Through the process, McAllister had one goal.

“I was just thinking about how much I wanted to play sports! I had the drive to rehab and pushed hard to get back. I managed to get back in seven and a half months instead of a year,” said McAllister.

“After I healed, I had to get my quickness back, but I was in better shape than I’d have ever been in.

“I had my best season in the ten games I played at the end of my junior year. I even made honorable mention for the Burlington Free Press. I was very happy about that, especially since I played such a short season,” said McAllister.

“I know I played well because I just wanted to play so badly. In the past, I had held myself back; that year, I had no reservation. I gained confidence because of how hard I’d been working.”

McAllister played a very successful AAU season with her Lone Wolf team.

“I was the most athletic I had been and had done personal training numerous times a week to help build strength in the knee. I was really thriving.”

McAllister returned to BFA eager to complete her high school career.

“In our first soccer scrimmage, I tore the other ACL. I knew what had happened right away. The surgery wasn’t scary to me; I was more upset about the loss of my final season,” said McAllister.

“It was harder to do the PT because I didn’t have a sport to come out to on the other side.”

Looking back at her athletic career, McAllister is grateful for the years she was able to compete.

“I got all of my leadership skills by playing sports, especially in high school, and sports teach discipline,” said McAllister.

“Sports also teach the value of making a promise to your team and the fact that you owe it to them to keep that promise.”

When it comes to facing a daunting challenge, McAllister had wise advice.

“Think of what you want on the other side of that challenge. That will push you to get there. You’ll have a goal you want to achieve, and that’s the only way to achieve it.

“My physical therapist told me that I couldn’t come back in less than a year, and I was determined to be back sooner. My determination has always been there. If someone told me I couldn’t make a table, I’m like--’Yes, I can, just watch me.’”

Lily is still taking orders and can be reached at Simply Rustic Facebook page. Visit Simply Rustic to see Lily’s work.

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