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Sibling sailors from Clearwater set course for the Olympics

CLEARWATER

When Zach Railey won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in China, his elation was tempered because his sister Paige, also a world class sailor, had narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team.

But this time around, the seafaring siblings from Clearwater have both scored a berth at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in England. They qualified in December during the International Sailing Federation's (ISAF) Sailing World Championships in Perth, Australia.

"We both understand how fortunate we are to have this opportunity — and this responsibility," said Zach, 27.

He'll be sailing a Finn, a men's single-handed heavyweight dinghy, and she'll be competing in the lighter-weight Laser Radial class during the games, which will run from July 27 to Aug. 12. The 10 Olympic sailing events — six for men, four for women — feature a variety of craft from windsurfing boards to keelboats.

Although this is billed as the London Olympics, the sailing races will take place in Weymouth and Portland, England, a venue where the conditions could be blustery, rainy and cold.

"There are huge weather systems that come through there," Zach said.

Whatever challenges the elements and the competition invoke, the pair say they're well prepared, both mentally and physically.

A typical day may include a morning and afternoon workout in a gym, several more hours of training on the water, sponsor obligations, interviews, fundraising activities and, often, travel.

It will cost Zach about $170,000 to get to the Olympics. Paige will require just over $100,000 — less because her boat and equipment aren't as expensive. The U.S. Sailing Team AlphaGraphics contributes about a third of their costs, and the sailors have to raise the balance on their own.

It's all not quite as glamorous as some might imagine, they say.

"This is a job with little time for anything else," said Paige, 24. "It consumes your entire life. People think we travel all over, but in reality, no matter what country you're in, you see the same scenery all the time: the gym and the yacht club."

"I've been to France 15 times, but I've never toured the Eiffel Tower," said Zach. "Wherever we go, we're there to race and compete."

At age 8, Zach learned to sail on tiny Optimist Prams at the Clearwater Yacht Club and the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. He loved horsing around out there, picking up crab pots and feeling free out on the sparkling Florida waters.

Paige and her twin sister, Brooke, soon followed suit.

By age 10, Zach had qualified for the Optimist World Championships in Finland. At 16, he made the U.S. Sailing Team.

Likewise, Paige experienced a meteoric rise to the top and joined the U.S. team at 17. She's been a formidable competitor in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Series and was ranked No. 1 when she graduated from high school in 2005.

One of her biggest motivations for racing success?

"I didn't want to be known as 'Zach's little sister,' " she said. "And, I wanted to beat the boys."

Considering their accomplishments, one might assume the duo grew up in a family of salts. But parents Ann and Dan Railey never learned how to sail.

During Zach and Paige's years at Clearwater High School, there was no time for proms and parties. Competitive schedules meant hitting the gym before the crack of dawn, sailing in the afternoon, and homework late at night.

Paige's sister, Brooke, on the other hand, followed the more traditional path, branching out with softball, cheerleading and sorority life.

Then there were choices about which college trajectory to take.

"There comes a time when every serious sailor has to decide whether they want to take the collegiate track or the Olympic track," Paige said, "and we chose the Olympics, which meant lots and lots of training and picking a college that will work with you."

Paige selected the University of South Florida and Zach went to the University of Miami, where the U.S. Sailing Center Miami has an official Olympic training center.

Paige lost her Olympic bid in 2007 when her life jacket caught the boom, capsizing her boat during the qualifying medal race. It was sailor Anna Tunnicliffe who would go on to win the gold medal for the UnitedStates in the Laser Radial class. Now Paige says she's older, wiser, more experienced and up for the challenge.

"When I was younger, I couldn't handle the pressure. Now I really enjoy it," she said. To de-stress, she says she takes three deep meditative breaths and tells herself to get on with the win.

Then there's the other trick.

"It's motivating, too, to think that your competitors are more nervous than you," Paige said.

Zach has his own rituals.

"I always wear my University of Miami hat. I have a secret song I listen to. I don't shave during the regatta until the night before the medal race."

And should they win the gold and be invited to appear on ABC's Dancing with the Stars like some previous Olympians, they're always up for new challenges.

"It would be awesome," said Zach.

. Fast facts

Paige and Zach Railey

Support: The Clearwater Yacht Club has formed the Clearwater Sailing Committee to raise funds and support the Raileys' Olympic campaigns. For information, call (727) 447-6000.

On the Web: Follow Paige Railey at paigerailey.com

and Zach Railey at zach2012.com.

Sibling sailors from Clearwater set course for the Olympics 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 8:54pm]
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