Published July 06, 2012
When it's time to line up to march into the stadium for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, Zach Railey will make sure little sister Paige is at his side.
It's the moment the sailing siblings from Clearwater, Fla., have been waiting years for.
"It will sink in for us when we walk in together at the opening ceremony," Zach Railey said. "That's what we've always dreamed about, a brother and sister standing next to each other walking in. It's a dream come true."
Zach Railey, 28, knows the drill. He made his Olympic debut at Beijing, winning the silver medal in the Finn class.
Paige didn't make those Olympics. She flipped her boat in the trials and lost to Anna Tunnicliffe, who went on to win the gold medal in the Laser Radial class.
"It was incredibly exciting for me to go in 2008, but it was also incredibly disappointing for Paige." Zach Railey said. "We think of ourselves as a team. So we were successful in me going, but we were unsuccessful in Paige going. That's always been what it's about, the two of us going together and the two us being successful at the Olympics. We learned from that experience in 2008 and we came back and didn't let it beat us, and now we're going in 2012 and we can't wait."
Both are strong medals contenders, although Zach Railey has the difficult task of being in the same class with British star Ben Ainslie, who will be trying for his fourth straight Olympic gold medal and fifth medal overall.
"We've always been a key support system for one another, so to go to the Olympics together is one of the best things in the world," said Paige Railey, 25. "We're going to do everything we can to be there for one another and bring home those medals for the country."
The Raileys grew up as self-described water rats. Sailing just happened to be the sport they excelled at.
"We were pretty much those tan little hippie babies with bleach-blond hair running around with their mom down at the beach," Paige Railey said. "It just seemed like a natural thing for us to go into a sport that was associated with the water. Our whole life was based around the water."
When Zach was 8, their family dentist suggested that his mother, Ann, enroll him in a summer sailing program. Three years later, it was Paige's turn. They both fell in love with the sport and began winning regattas.
"You look back to when we were 14, 15, 16 years old, we were traveling around together, we were going to the gym together, we were going through the same experiences," Zach Railey said. "We experienced the ups and downs together. You form a relationship outside of just being a brother and sister. That is what has brought us together, closer than just having a family relationship, is that we also have an athletic relationship.
"When you understand the time and the commitment that goes into it, you want each other to do well," he said.
That's what made it so difficult when, on the same day in October 2007, Zach Railey qualified for the Beijing Olympics and Paige didn't. While Zach won his trials — only one boat per class per country qualifies for the Olympics — Paige's chances ended in a split second when she caught her life jacket in the boom and flipped her boat.
"Not only was that a race for the Olympic berth, but it was very widely known around the world that whoever won that event was going to be a medal contender at the Olympics," Zach Railey said.
Sure enough, Tunnicliffe won the gold medal. Tunnicliffe then moved into the women's match racing class and will be seeking her second gold medal at Weymouth on the English Channel.
"It was so gut-wrenchingly disappointing," Zach Railey said. "It was an emotional, emotional, emotional time for our family. But I think that our family is so close and we're incredibly strong and we support each other, that we got through it. But it was tough, it was really, really tough. It was tough on all of us. I can tell you it's much better this time around with both of us going."
While disappointed that she didn't go to Beijing, Paige Railey said she was ecstatic for Zach.
"Just because I couldn't go, my brother was there representing both of us," she said. "He went there and he won a silver medal and we got to celebrate. The most respectful thing my brother did is he received a lot of publicity and he never left me behind. When he reached his goal and got his silver medal, when he was meeting his sponsors or talking to the press, he was always saying, 'My sister Paige.' He took me along for the ride. I have a lot of respect for my brother. I'll always be grateful for that. It means so much more that I get to go the games with him because when I was sad over not making the games, my brother was there for me. He never left me behind."
After losing in the trials, Paige Railey finished college before starting her campaign for London.
"It was out of my control and there was nothing I could do, so instead of taking it as a negative, I turned it around and made that trials a positive and I learned from it," Paige Railey said. "I wasn't going to let that setback ruin my career."
The Raileys achieved their goal of going to the Olympics together when they clinched berths for London during the world championships in Australia in December.
"It's certainly one of those things where we understood that the chances of one of us not being successful again were high," Zach Railey said. "Our goal is to go to the Olympic games and win medals. We were relieved, we were excited and then we got refocused on the next goal, which is getting on the podium in London."
Zach Railey has told his sister about the pressures of competing at the Olympics, the attention it brings and the responsibility that comes with it.
As a 12-year-old, Zach Railey became smitten with the Olympics while watching on TV as Michael Johnson won the 200 meters in his gold shoes at the Atlanta Games. At Beijing, after winning his silver, he watched in person as Usain Bolt, also wearing gold shoes, broke Johnson's world record in winning the gold medal.
Railey's next big Olympic moment will be marching into the Olympic Stadium with his sister.
"We're going to be side by side, having fun," he said.