Olympic Silver Medalist Sailor Zach Railey Returns To Racing After Three-Year Hiatus

By Paul D. Bowker | Nov. 23, 2015, 1:07 p.m. (ET)
Zach Railey competes in the men's Finn sailing at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Weymouth & Portland Venue at Weymouth Harbour on Aug. 3, 2012 in Weymouth, England.


Two-time Olympian Zach Railey is a well-known U.S. sailor who won a silver medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the Finn class.

A three-time US Sailing Sportsman of the Year winner and captain of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team, Railey is an accomplished businessman, in addition to his sailing.

This week, he is one of three U.S. sailors competing in the 2015 Finn Gold Cup (the world championship for the Finn class) in New Zealand, joining Caleb Paine and Philip Toth. Railey is competing in an international championship for the first time since the London 2012 Olympic Games.

That’s quite a sailing résumé for a guy who followed garbage trucks around in his boyhood (read on to find out about that and his 2012 Olympic teammate and sister, Paige, who wanted to work in a doughnut shop).

Zach Railey – the older sailing sibling by three years – took a break from his training at the world championships to answer a few email questions from TeamUSA.org.

Greetings, Zach. What motivated you to get back into competitive sailing in time for the Finn Gold Cup?

I have been away from the Olympic sailing scene for about three years. I truly missed it and wanted to challenge myself to get back into Olympic sailing. This is really a personal challenge to myself to see what I can do. I have no idea what to expect. I think that also makes the whole experience that much more exciting.

What have you been doing since the London 2012 Olympic Games?

Working! We started a product development and manufacturing company after the Olympics. Our company identifies consumer products across various markets that we feel are viable for development, manufacturing, distribution and sales.

With a lot of hard work and dedication with my partners we have built three successful companies over the last few years: Bucket Innovations, Deluge Products and Don Ray Gear.

I have always wanted to focus on building companies and being successful in the private sector. I have some amazing partners and employees who make this happen, and it is a major team effort. We are also very proud that all our products are made and manufactured in the United States! Both my sisters are partners in the companies, and also Casey and Justin Holder and myself make up our executive team for the operations.

What are your hopes for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games?

I honestly am not sure what to expect. That's why I came here (to the Finn Gold Cup) to measure where I am at against the top sailors in the world. I have been back training for only a few months, so it's a big unknown right now. Of course, I would hope to qualify for the 2016 Games and be a medal contender. That being said, I think right now I need to see where I am at over the next few weeks, then we will know how big the mountain is that needs to be climbed. Regardless of how big the mountain is, I am still confident that I can reach the peak.

What was your training like leading up to the world championships?

That has been the biggest change for me compared to prior Olympic training. I have major responsibilities off the water with our companies. My normal day for the last few months has been early morning gym sessions, then working from 8 to 11 a.m., on-water training sessions from 12 to 3 and then back to work 4 to 7, then a nightly gym session. My partners and staff have been INCREDIBLE with helping and allowing me the flexibility to make this happen.

The other part about traveling for some events is that we can schedule meetings with international partners for Bucket Innovations. We are currently expanding internationally with our Bucket Design, and after the world championship I will be doing meetings in the Australia with manufacturing partners. This certainly adds a twist to the whole package.

What is it like in New Zealand?

It has been great. Great people, good wind and a beautiful backdrop of downtown Auckland and Takapuna. … It is my first time racing here, and I have enjoyed the trip and my time here.

What is it about the Finn class that is so appealing?

Well I am a pretty big guy, 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, so the Finn fits my body really well. It is also a very physical class, I think the most physical of the Olympic-class boats, and that really draws me to it. We push really hard and the boat is quite powerful, so you need to be very fit to handle it. The class itself is also full of some really great people. Some of my closest friends are my competitors, so that makes life on the road fun to spend time with them.

Tell us about your family, Zach.

My family is fantastic. Sailing is a huge part of our lives, although my parents have no idea how to sail. We started in our hometown Clearwater, Florida, when we were kids at the suggestion of our family dentist for a learn-to-sail camp when I was 8 years old. I love being on the water. Our whole family does, and when we found a sport that allowed us to be on the water, it was perfect.

My favorite story was when I wanted to be the garbage man because I thought it was cool that they could ride on the back of the garbage truck. I used to take the trash out with my dad and say I wanted to be the garbage man because they could ride on the outside of the truck. My dad used to tell me, “Zach, you can be the garbage man just as long as you own the garbage truck company!” My sister, Paige, wanted to be the Dunkin’ Donuts baker, and after church on Sundays we would always go to Dunkin’ Donuts and she used to say she wanted to be the Dunkin’ Donuts lady. My mom would always say, “Paige, you can be the Dunkin’ Donuts lady, just as long as you own the Dunkin’ Donuts!” This was when we were like 8. They were teaching us to do what we wanted, but always make sure that we were the best. Be the owner, be the winners, reach for the top.

That is why when we get involved with something we always try to be better, try to do more, do what people say can't be done. Failure was inevitable, and when you reach for high goals failure happens more often than success. That was when we learned that it was the effort that defined the person, and those that brushed off failure and continued to put in the effort even after being kicked in the teeth were the people who eventually ended up reaching their goals.

We hear that you like to fish.

I love fishing! I have fished since I was a little kid with my friends and family at home. I am a fanatic about it. Fishing and scuba diving, I do it whenever I can.

Is there a parallel between sailing and running a business?

I think the parallel between athletics and business is that hard work pays off. What I have had to really learn in the business world is running a company and working with groups of people. I sail a one-person boat, and it’s very much a selfish endeavor. I have a lot of support and a lot of people pulling for me, but in the end it’s just me and the boat.

In business you have a lot of different moving parts, and sometimes they don't always want to move at the same pace or direction that you do. So learning to motivate those around you and knowing what makes them tick and what motivates them is important to learn. When I first started I figured I could do it all on my own, and that was not the case at all.

There are three Americans in the world championships. Is there a lot of friendship and camaraderie among all of you?

There is, for sure. Even though only one of us will be selected for the spot at the 2016 Olympics, we all want to be as good as possible so that we can win a medal in 2016. That, in the end, is the goal for the country and to make sure that the USA stays on the top of the medal count in Rio 2016.

Lastly, Zach, how does it feel to be in the competitive waters again?

One word: Exciting!

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.