When Clearwater native Zach Railey won a Silver medal in sailing in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the Clearwater sailing community was ecstatic. This summer, however, they have double reason to rejoice. Zach will be competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in England along with his sister Paige Railey on the US Sailing Team. They are the first brother-sister siblings ever to compete together in Olympic sailing.
Set to take place in Weymouth, England, from July 27 to August 12, the sailing competition will feature Zach, 28, racing a heavyweight Finn dinghy while Paige, 25, will be at the helm of a smaller, lighter Laser Radial. The Summer Olympics will have 10 one-design sailing events, six for men and four for women.
Excitement for the hometown heroes among family, friends, local businesses and in the Clearwater sailing community has been mounting since the announcement in December that both Zach and Paige had received berths on the US Olympic Sailing Team. Paige had narrowly missed making the team in 2008.
“Making the Olympic team with my sister Paige is a dream come true for both of us,” Zach says on his web site bio. “This is what we’ve worked for. This is what we sacrifice for.”
Since taking up sailing at age 8 at Clearwater Yacht Club, the seafaring siblings have become near-celebrities in the local sailing community. By their teens, the Clearwater High School students were both competing in national and international regattas, earning impressive medals and major recognition.
Since the 2008 Olympics, Zach has continued his success in the Finn class, the men’s heavyweight dinghy, by winning a silver medal at the Finn Gold Cup; winning the Finn Nationals (’09, ’10, ’11), and three medals at ISAF Sailing World Cup events. He is currently ranked No. 5 in the world. No less impressive, Paige was the world’s most celebrated female sailor in 2006, winning both the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year and US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year awards. She is currently ranked No 5 in the world and is a four-time World Champion.
“We’ve been watching Zach and Paige grow up and followed their sailing progress for years,” says Sandi Ramsden, past commodore of Clearwater Yacht Club. “So it’s really exciting to see them come to this level.”
The excitement climaxed at a fundraiser in April, where more than 500 supporters, including Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and his wife, Carolyn, showed up for a celebration honoring Zach and Paige at Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s new Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. Zach and Paige were on hand to thank all who attended as well as to thank volunteers and donors of the many auction and raffle items from vacation lodging, sailing and fishing trips, to jewelry, art, gift certificates and gift baskets.
At a volunteer meeting at Clearwater Yacht Club in mid-May, committee chair Ron Buck beamed as he pulled out a sign with the total amount raised from the event: $45,093. Cheers and applause broke out.
“It took a lot of dedication from a lot of people to get to this point,” said Buck, who spearheaded a similar fundraising effort five years ago to help Zach in his Olympic medal quest. “It was a lot of work raising funds for Zach, so we knew it would take a lot of resources this time around to help both Zach and Paige.”
Buck acknowledges the work of a large group of sponsors and supporters from the Clearwater Yacht Club, the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, friends and local businesses. Parents Ann and Dan Railey, and Paige’s twin sister Brooke, have been instrumental in their support, too. Ann Railey estimates that $300,000 – roughly $150,000 for each athlete – is needed to cover all expenses.
Travel costs for testing, training and competing in the months leading up to the Olympics can be overwhelming. The last nine months have taken the Raileys to Australia, California, Miami, Spain, Germany, England, and the Canary Islands, with short visits back to Clearwater. There are also expenses for sailing coaches and personal trainers, equipment and gear.
“We get some help from sponsors, of course, and the US Sailing Team and the Olympics Committee pitch in,” she explains. “But it is up to each individual to make up the rest.”
Physical, Mental Challenges
Training and competing in races leading up to the Olympics demands intense physical and mental stamina. Staying in shape has been a major focus. Zach and Paige spent 10 days at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where they trained with Navy Seals and focused on nutrition and mental fitness.
Hours of workouts and sailing practice in high winds and cold temperatures have been particularly tough. One of the biggest challenges to overcome in England, said Paige, was getting acclimated to the weather.
“We have worked a lot on getting used to the cold,” she said. “Being from Florida does not prepare you for the cold in England. Zach and I have both trained ourselves to deal with numb feet, hands, faces, arms and legs. “
Being far away from loved ones for long stretches of time has been tough for the siblings, too.
“It’s hard being on the road and I miss my family and friends,” said Paige, “but we make sure to talk almost every day. I use all of the social media to keep in touch — Skype, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and texting. When I return home, I plan to spend as much time with my friends and family as I can.”
And when they do return home after the Summer Games, no matter the outcome, you can be sure that the Raileys will be Gold to their Clearwater supporters.
Sue Stewart, director of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, says the Raileys have been an inspiration for local children who come to the center on Sand Key to learn how to sail. Many know them personally, as Paige and Zach volunteer to teach sailing if their schedules permit.
“This is where they started sailing,” she said. “They are role models now.”
By Marcia Biggs