Mentioning Clearwater, Florida often conjures up images of grouper sandwiches, beach umbrellas, tropical drinks and a laid back lifestyle. Most of the residents and visitors here have simply no idea that Clearwater, Florida is about to be permanently put on the map by a group of five young people who are striving to be part of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
So what's so special about Clearwater that this tiny area is such a hotbed of Olympic hopefuls? For starters, just look outside your window, or drive a short distance down the road, and chances are you'll get a glimpse of the water. Unlike most places, learwater is strategically located to provide one of the best sailing areas in the world. Proximity to the Gulf of Mexico through the Clearwater Pass offers miles of practice area, and on days when the Gulf seas are either too calm or too rough, the chances are that the Bay will provide an alternate spot for excellent sailing.
For years now, these five young men and women have been practicing and training to get in the best shape possible, honing their skills and taking all the steps necessary to represent the United States of America among the world's greatest athletes.
A huge part of reaching this pinnacle of achievement in their young lives must be attributed to the parents of these athletes, who tirelessly support and encourage their children, travel the world with them and been there through all the ups and downs of sailing competitions.
Also taking part in their success is the Clearwater Yacht Club, which is where four of these young sailors entered the youth sailing programs, learned how to sail, competed in countless sailing regattas and were encouraged by so many club members who share the same love of sailing.
Along with Clearwater Yacht Club, the Clearwater Community Sailing Center also plays a big part in these young peoples' lives, for it is right here on Sand Key that the sailors launch their boats, and share so many pre and post race memories with their friends and fellow sailors.
Although it's more than tempting to hang out in front of the TV, go on spring break with a bunch of friends, or sleep 'til noon, these young people take "the road less traveled" and head for the gym, go for a run, practice their starts, tacks, jibes and exercise self discipline. They work 'til their muscles are sore, their faces burnt and they are exhausted beyond belief, but still they come back for more. They have a lot in common - they love sailing, have a healthy respect for Mother Nature, are trying to reach their goal of being the best in the world, and when they head to China you can be sure that they'll be thinking fondly of their hometown of Clearwater, where they first got their taste for the joy of sailing.
Our five Olympic hopefuls are:
- Paige Railey - No stranger to the world of sailing, Clearwater's Paige is well known both nationally and internationally for her meteoric success in the Laser Radial. Paige was recently named the 2006 ISAF Rolex World sailor of the Year - a huge honor for any American, especially one who is not yet 20- years-old.
- Zach Railey - Paige's older brother who also learned to sail in the youth program out of Clearwater Yacht Club, Zach sails in the Finn class and is ranked as top US sailor in this class.
- Brad Funk - Brad has a long list of accomplishments at 28 years old and is currently ranked top US sailor in the Laser class.
- Kurt Taulbee - Clearwater's adopted son, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Kurt lives here with his wife and son. Kurt coaches the Clearwater Sailing Team, competes in Lasers along with Brad Funk and is ranked third in the country.
- Emily Billing - Youngest of all Olympic hopefuls at only 15 years of age, and rapidly gaining experience, Emily is making her mark in the sailing world. She was recently chosen to be a member of the US Elite Youth Development Sailing Team.
On Sunday, May 6th, the Clearwater Yacht Club will host a Patio Cook-Out party from noon to 5 p.m. in honor of these athletes. There will be music, food, a raffle and a cash bar. The public is invited to attend. The cost for this event is $20 with the proceeds going to help fund the sailors in their Olympic quest. Call Clearwater Yacht Club at 447-6000 to book your reservation.
Join us and be proud of these dedicated young adults who are striving to represent our country and Clearwater, Florida.
| Paige Railey at the Laser Midwinter East regatta in Clearwater
|| Kurt Taulbee
|| Emily Billing
| Paige sails out to an early lead in the Midwinter East regatta
| Emily making adjustments before a race