Interview with Paige Railey

How old were you when you started sailing and how did you get involved? I started sailing at the age of 8 because my parents needed a daycare for the summer months.

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser Radial and what has kept you sailing it since? I sailed a Byte when I was younger and the next step was Radial. US Sailing has a pathway set out for Opti sailors through Junior Olympics, Leiter Cup, and Smythe Regatta. It helps a sailor decide if they want to sail single- or double-handed.

Your brother is a very talented sailor as well, do you have a close relationship with him and has he helped your sailing over the years? My whole family is extremely close. When Zach sailed, he and I were a team. There has never been competition or resentment towards each other. If he succeeded, then we succeeded together and vice versa.

What was your first international Laser regatta and first international Laser podium? I believe it was the Swedish Nationals then Kieler Woche when I was 16. I sailed some major North American events before, but I remember those events specifically because I was so nervous seeing all the different countries. I was competing against boys then and I remember watching this guy do push-ups before the race in his boat. I thought, these Europeans have some whack pre-race routines and then, is he trying to intimidate me?! My thought… I’ll show him.

When you were getting involved in sailing the Laser Radial, were there any specific sailors you looked up to or strived to be like some day? No… I’ve never had an idol in sailing. I honestly didn’t know many sailors when I was really young because I was just some beach kid competing in a world completely foreign to my family. My parents don’t sail, so we were all learning how this sport worked together. I will say this though, Robert Scheidt has my utmost respect. What an athlete, fierce competitor, but humble to where he says hello to people by name onshore.

You won the title of 2006 Rolex World Sailor of the Year. What was that experience like for you, winning at a young age? Were you expecting it? I remember when I won I was sitting in the backseat of the car and I started to cry and ask why. I was ashamed of my sailing because I had been thrown out of the Worlds for yellow flags. After, I went to win the Olympic Test Event and then I was winning this prestigious award. It was a roller coaster and initially I didn’t want it. I actually remember saying to my mom in the car, “I don’t want it” and I cried silently in the backseat.  I was embarrassed of my ups and downs and I was being blasted in the media. My name was everywhere, I felt like every part of my life was being reported on and some of the things I read after the Worlds and that year really hurt me. People laughed at me, gossiped, and when I sat in the back of the car I thought of the hurtful things and thought are they making a joke of me? I wasn’t used to being recognized and all the attention, so I had to take time to digest it. My mom helped me realize the greatness of that year. I had been defeated on a worldwide level and I chose to be strong, move forward, and go win my next event. As a kid, I learned how to get myself back up, display my weaknesses/losses with pride and continue forward. I was then proud of winning that award, not because I had many medals, but because I was strong inside myself, I didn’t let defeat hold me down and I could stand in front of queens, kings, the world and be proud of my accomplishments, but most of all my losses.

Describe your first experience with the Olympic Games in London 2012. Did you walk away pleased with your results?Well, I didn’t win a medal so I wasn’t happy. It was an amazing experience with my brother. We were a really strong unit and I loved walking in the opening with him.

You’ve had a few bumps along the way in your sailing career, including your horrific bike accident in 2014. Can you describe what happened and how that recovery played into your sailing preparation for Rio?Physical struggles and mental state are completely interlinked. I’ve had some major ups and downs and I choose to be strong in my head. I was vulnerable after falling on my face and had to rely on people for help in all aspects. It humbled me and made me truly appreciate my friends and family.

Following the accident, you managed to pursue your second Olympic campaign all the way to Rio. Were you happy with your results, finishing fifth overall? I’ve never been happy with my Olympic results because I haven’t brought home a medal. That’s why I’m doing another campaign!

Can you tell us a little bit about what happened in 2017? You decided to take a year off of sailing – can you share what went into making that decision? I was sick and I couldn’t sail. That year has changed my life for forever, I’m not the same person at all anymore. One day I’ll speak open about it, but for now I struggle to be open.

What made you decide to continue for a third Olympic campaign after your year off? I want a medal.

In such a strong fleet of Radial sailors, how do you work at reducing mistakes or minimizing their impact?I keep changing with the times. New techniques and thought processes are introduced and I roll with the punches. I also listen. I try to keep learning all the time. 

You are one of the more experienced sailors in the fleet – how do you think that helps or hinders your sailing? I was wild when I was a kid, yes I still have that fire but with the help of coach Steve, he helps me channel it. I can lose ten times over and I’ll still try my hardest the next race. Before results defined me but now, my actions, determination, and perseverance make me who I am. I am my fight and my fight is me.

What has been the most difficult regatta for you? Regattas aren’t what I define as difficult after 2017, they’re challenges and I love it. Difficult usually has a struggle, it’s hard or non love for the moment… you can put me into anything and I will enjoy being first or last. I love the fight. What’s difficult is health, being sick. Internally overcoming challenges where you are physically and mentally on ground zero. I didn’t know difficultly until my body didn’t want to function or do as I ask. I was simply this spirit full of life, in a capsule that was struggling. It’s beyond difficult for me at times, it’s just awful, but it sure has taught me how to fight and be strong.

Do you have any particular “rituals” or routines that you do before going out on the water to compete? Nope. Just rig up and say, hey God, whatever path you have put out for me today I can promise you this… I’m going to try my hardest, trust in you, and never give up. I don’t ask for 1st or some magical puff, I quit wanting more than what I have now or being superstitious. What will be will be, but right now I’m going try and let things happen.

Do you have any other goals outside of sailing?Outside of sailing, I work in my family’s company Single Source Insurance and Bucket Innovations. We are trying our hardest to grow them and I want to do anything possible to aid in those dreams.  And when I’m older, I see myself getting involved with fostering and adoption.

What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? Mountain biking, rock climbing, water activities, triathlons, etc.

What is your favorite place that you have traveled to because of sailing? Rio and all Asian countries.

What would you like readers to know about Paige Railey as a person? I’m always up to meet new people, spread sailing knowledge, and assist others in achieving dreams. We are all doing the same thing so we should help and encourage one another – so I’m here! Ask me questions, let’s train together, and make sailing one of the best sports.