For the third straight Olympiad, Western Carolina University alumnus Dan Railey, a 1969 WCU graduate, will be present to watch one of his children compete for the American sailing team. Railey is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to watch his daughter, Paige, compete in the women’s laser radial event, which begins Monday, Aug. 8. The event features a one-person sailing vessel, also known as a dinghy.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Railey’s son, Zachary, won a silver medal in the men’s finn event, which also utilizes a one-person dinghy. At the London Games in 2012, he was a captain of the men’s team while Paige made her Olympic debut, placing eighth.
“It’s always a joy for us to be able to go and watch our children represent our country,” Dan said. “I just don’t think you get a better accolade or honor than being able to represent your country in something like the Olympics. We are fortunate as a family. Most folks hope they can go to one Olympiad. Here we’ve had the privilege of having two children go, and this will be our third trip to represent our country.”
Just how did the Railey children become world-class sailors? Well, it started on a visit to the dentist when Zach was 8 years old. The family dentist asked if Zach would be interested in trying sailing at the yacht club in Clearwater, Florida. After a week, Zach fell in love with the sport and returned for a second week. Paige and her twin sister, Brooke, also went.
Dan came to appreciate the independence that sailing taught his children.
“You had to make decisions on the water and if anything happened, it was just you, the boat and the wind,” he said. “Any errors that were made were your errors and therefore you had no one to blame but yourself.”
Paige, who is looking to add an Olympic medal to her long list of accomplishments, has been dominant in women’s sailing. She has won one gold, one silver and three bronze medals in the world championships to go along with two gold and one bronze medal in three Pan American Games.
She was named the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2006, U.S. Sailing’s Olympic Athlete of the Year (2011-12), and U.S. Sailing’s Sportswoman of the Year in 2010.
“She may go down as the greatest American sailor in women’s sailing,” Dan said. “It’s been quite a resume. The nice thing about it is she and her brother have always supported one another, and the twin sister has been the one that’s been behind both of them, running the family business and doing different stuff for them so they could do the sailing.”
Since graduating from WCU, Dan and Ann built up a successful real estate and insurance company in Florida. Since then, their children have not only continued running those businesses, but also have started some side ventures of their own, such as Bucket Innovations, a company that makes a five-gallon bucket with a patented built-in handle at the bottom of the bucket.
The highlight for Dan and wife Ann came in 2012 when they got to see both Zach and Paige compete in the same Olympics. Zach nearly retired after the Beijing Games, but decided to compete once more because he wanted to go to the Olympics with his sister.
Zach did retire after London, but after training with sailors from Denmark and Australia, he was talked into competing for a spot on this year’s team. He led after the first day of the trials before losing out to Caleb Paine, his former training partner.
Paige won her spot after coming back from a serious bicycle injury in 2014 while training. The accident left her with a fracture in her spine, a concussion, lacerations on her face, loose teeth, a dislocated knuckle and exposed tendons.
“The doctor told her at the time it was going to be six months before she could train again,” Dan said. “She was back in the boat in six weeks.”
Now she is back in one of her favorite cities, a place where she previously won a world championship. Win or lose, the family says it is grateful for another opportunity to represent their country at the Olympic Games.
“The nice thing is you’re always going to be an Olympian,” Dan said. “For eternity’s sake, you’ll always be known as an Olympian and I think that is such an honor. It’s something that we’re very, very proud of as a family for them.”
The Raileys aren’t WCU’s only connection to the Olympics. Alumnus Jarrett Frazier ’12 is working for NBC at his second straight summer Olympics. Also, WCU associate professor Brian Byrd, who has been advising health officials from local agencies and all the way up to North Carolina’s top health experts on the Zika virus, says he would go to Rio if he had the chance.