Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater man will sail for the gold in Summer Olympics

In the U.S. Olympic sailing trials, there are only two options. Win or go home. At Olympic trials last October in Newport Beach, Calif., Zach Railey won, realizing a dream he first had a dozen years ago. Now the 24-year-old Clearwater native is in Qingdao, China, making final preparations to compete in the Finn-class sailing race on Aug. 9.

Only the top American sailor in the Finn, a heavyweight single-man boat, gets an Olympic berth. Railey will face a field of 25 sailors from around the world, including 2004 gold medalist Ben Ainslie of England and current world champion Jonas Hoegh-Christensen of Denmark.

Railey said a dozen sailors have the mettle to win one of the three medals.

And he thinks he is one of them.

• • •

Railey's sailing career started at age 8.

His father, Dan, said he was sitting in the chair of the family dentist.

"What are the children doing for the summer?" dentist Pete Crawford asked Dan Railey.

Zach Railey was playing baseball and tennis. He was a good kid, but he had his run-ins with his mom and dad, Dan Railey said.

Crawford suggested the Raileys send their three children to sailing camp at the Clearwater Yacht Club.

Zach fell in love the first day.

"It was the attraction of being near the water that pulled me toward sailing," he said.

But his life changed in a golden flash on a track far from home.

In 1996, when Michael Johnson sprinted his way into history with those golden shoes, Railey stared in amazement along with millions of other TV viewers watching the Atlanta Olympics.

He called a meeting with his parents. He was only 12, but he announced his goal: the Olympic Games.

In setting his sights high and devoting his teenaged years to sailing, Railey said he missed out on movies with friends and homecoming dances.

"I was so concentrated on my sailing that I didn't have a lot of free time," he said.

Railey graduated from Clearwater High School and headed to the University of Miami. He continued sailing while in college, but not with the 'Canes. The collegiate boats were too small for Railey, who stands 6 feet 4 and weighed 215 pounds in college.

He graduated in May 2006 with a degree in sports administration and business management — tools Railey said have helped him raise the money necessary to continue his racing career.

His family, including sisters Paige and Brooke, have been there every step of the way.

Paige Railey, 21, also sails, rising quickly in the ranks of female Laser sailors. She qualified as the alternate for the Beijing Olympics. In 2006, the International Sailing Federation and Rolex named her women's World Sailor of the Year.

Her twin sister, Brooke, sailed in her childhood, but now serves as Railey's anchor, grounding him when necessary.

Zach Railey credits his mother, Ann, with much of his success.

"She does everything we have to have done behind the scenes before we go on the water," Railey said. "It's her full-time job."

Ann Railey said raising two world-class athletes is simply a matter of keeping organized, which can be hard when her children are on different continents competing.

Zach Railey said he spends a lot of time away from home, but his natural friendliness helps him along the way.

"It gets pretty lonely pretty quick," he said.

On the racing circuit, Railey passes time with his competitors, going out to dinner with them and comparing schedules.

And because of his demanding schedule, Railey, who is single, said he rarely dates.

But when he does get a chance to go home, Railey said he tries to be as normal as possible.

"Outside of all this Olympics stuff, yeah, I'm a normal guy," he laughed.

• • •

The Olympics will be anything but normal. Only a few seconds separate the winners from the losers. Sometimes, it's mere inches.

But Railey said his plan is to sail a focused, disciplined race.

"In sailing you have to be very consistent," he said. "You don't have to win every race to do well in the regatta."

Finn-class sailors are the biggest in the games. Light-wind courses like Qingdao favor boats that weigh less and make racing tough.

"It's a mental game for sure in light wind," said Railey, who has dropped about 20 pounds to prepare for the Olympics.

But Railey said he's more than ready. He follows a strict training regimen, starting with an hour of cardio exercise in the morning, three to five hours out on the water and ending with a two-hour session in the gym before bed.

When he gets back from China, Railey said he's going to take a few months off. He'll start with catching up with college friends in Miami.

Then, his sights will be focused on 2012 and another Olympic berth.

"My sister and I are definitely going again," he said.

But first, he plans to come home a winner.

Jackie Alexander can be reached at or (727) 445-4167.

Clearwater man will sail for the gold in Summer Olympics 07/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 1:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  2. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, June 23


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]