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O'Gorman: I'll do whatever - I'll move across the country

Grant O'Gorman celebrates a point in Gstaad in 2019.
Calgary, Canada, September 27, 2020 - The 2017 season was an awfully strange one for Canadian men’s beach volleyball. While the women, between Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, and Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, were taking over not just North America, but the world, the men were in a state of, perhaps not confusion, but slight disarray.

The three most successful partnerships of the 2016 quadrennial – Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk, Grant O’Gorman and Sam Pedlow, Sam Schachter and Josh Binstock – had all split for various reasons. Schalk was switching federations, to the United States, where he lives with his wife, Lane Carico, and daughter. Schachter and Pedlow decided to join forces and become a team of Sams.

Ben Saxton in action at the King of the Court event in the Netherlands earlier this month.

It left Saxton, O’Gorman, Michael Plantinga, and Aaron Nusbaum to figure it out before the qualifying for Tokyo 2020 began in earnest.

O’Gorman, a 1.89m defender with his future somewhat in his hands, did what anybody would do, really.

“I begged him,” he said.

By “him” he means Saxton, the 2.01m blocker who lived on the opposite side of the country. Didn’t matter. It would be worth the move.

“I think Ben is the best blocker Canada has ever had,” O’Gorman said. “I thought it was a no brainer to see how it goes, see if I was up to that level.”

Saxton, however, wasn’t going to move. O’Gorman had no issue with it. He packed up his bags and moved across the continent, to Calgary, far from the federation’s training centre in Toronto. 

“With Grant, I’ve always been a Western Canadian guy, which is different than most of the Canadian players on tour, who are from the east side of the country,” said Saxton, who has been playing full time on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour since 2011. “I wanted to be a little closer to my home and Grant offered to come out and do that with me. He uprooted his whole life to play with me which was great. I knew the motivation was there and he’d work hard.”

It took exactly one tournament for that hard work to pay off: a gold medal at the Sydney 2-star in November of 2017 was the debut of the new partnership. It was the first gold of either player’s career on the World Tour, and the first male gold for the Canadian federation since 2014, when Schachter and Binstock beat the Grimalt cousins in an Open in Parana, Argentina.  

“I told him ‘I’ll do whatever. I’ll move across the country,’” O’Gorman said. “He said ‘Yeah let’s give it a shot.’ We played a tournament in Australia and we won it and that’s how it started.”

An auspicious start for what has proven to be an auspicious partnership, in far more areas of life than simply on the beach. It was in Calgary that O’Gorman met his fiancée, Isabela Lima. Now they’re launching a YouTube channel together, documenting O’Gorman’s hilarious learning curve with Portuguese – it is Lima’s native language – as well as his battle with testicular cancer.

He’s clear of the cancer now, O’Gorman. Surgery proved to be effective for the cancer, which was identified in April and operated on in May. He and Saxton are now ambassadors for Movember, the whimsical yet incredibly successful men’s health awareness charity.

“It was a scary time, a lot of uncertainty,” O’Gorman said. “It was a sad moment but it’s something I think will motivate me in the future. I have something more to play for, not just myself anymore, and I think I can do a lot of good with it.”

They’re taking it year by year, these two. As the whole world has learned this year: things can change, totally and completely, in an instant. So he takes it tournament by tournament, year by year, not looking ahead to the quad or points or rankings.

“For me, it’s always how well can I do this year? If I can be good every year, eventually we’ll make the Olympics. It was ‘How can I have the best season?’” Saxton said. “After 2012, when I didn’t qualify, was more of a mental shift than after making it. It helped things because Chaim and I got quite a bit better focusing year by year rather than an entire quad.”

They are currently the second-ranked team in Canada, behind Schachter and Pedlow. But they’ve only played nine of the minimum 12 events needed to qualify for Tokyo. There’s room to make the jump, and plenty of time to do so, should there be a somewhat normal 2021 season ahead.

O'Gorman and Saxton competing in Edmonton in 2019.

Not bad for a partnership that began with a little begging, and the biggest move of O’Gorman’s life.

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