HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. – Sam Schachter was done. For 10 years, he had played professional beach volleyball. Competed in more than 100 international events and another five — all NVLs — in the United States. He’d been to an Olympics and saw another come to a premature end, as his bid to Tokyo with Sam Pedlow had fallen short in the final events of the 2021 quad.

Still, he figured, even if his Olympic run was over, he and Pedlow could still play the final FIVB of the 2021 season, in Gstaad, Switzerland.

And then, after a 17th-place finish in Switzerland, with a notable win over eventual fourth-place finishers in Tokyo, Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, “I did not watch or think about volleyball other than coaching, to make money for about two months,” Schachter said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

What he did think about was retirement. He tested a few potential options as to what life might look like after beach volleyball. Took a full-time coaching job at York University in Toronto. Added a couple private lessons here and there. Felt it out.

“It gave me a little snapshot of what it would be like if I stopped and stepped away,” the 31-year-old Canadian defender said. “I love what I do with my college program, I love coaching, and I love exploring other things, but nothing quite beats being on tour and competing and testing myself every day, just having that level of growth is unbelievable every year. It’s like ‘I’ve figured myself out’ and then it’s ‘nope! New level. New challenge.’

“I thought about retirement, but I said ‘I can’t go out like that. I’m going to give it another shot.’ You talked about not ever thinking ‘What if I did that?’ and I had some discussions with my girlfriend and my family, and I said ‘I can still ball.’ So I’m back, baby!”

So no, Sam Schachter wasn’t done. Not yet.

But Dan Dearing was done.

Heck, he’d been done for seven years. Got out of the game in 2015 and hadn’t looked back. He’d gotten into some contracting, coaching. Had a plush gig working the night club scene.

“I just started to try to build my own career and build a relationship and save for a house and move on to some of the things we’re all trying to check off,” Dearing said. “I’m very passion driven and I didn’t know if the call would come.”

Ah, yes: “The Call.”

There was a single condition in which Dearing would emerge from his pseudo-retirement: If he were to get a call from Sam Schachter, asking him to bring his 45-inch vertical back to the beach.

“I told myself when I retired — and I kid you not — that I would only go back if one person in Canada gave me a phone call and I told my girlfriend that at the time and, a year-and-a-half into our relationship, I got that phone call,” Dearing said. “And I was like wow this is actually happening and I had to think about it and process it and I don’t regret anything.”

Dan Dearing
Canada Daniel Dearing receives the ball (Photo/FIVB)

Seven years is a long time out of the game. Not that Dearing was ever completely out. He was still coaching, still competing in the local Canadian events. And there is no losing his undeniable genetic gifts, which, as it often goes with athletically-blessed individuals, were as much a curse as a blessing when he was young. By his own admission, Dearing didn’t work hard in the first stint of his career, which began in 2014 and ended in 2016. He just didn’t really need to.

“From 17 to about 25, I’ve always been that freak of an athlete who’s had the word potential with a question mark next to it,” said Dearing, who is now 32. “I didn’t have the work ethic that a Sam Pedlow had, who just put in the work with his body and treated it like a temple. I would be lazy. I would train in the sand and then get hurt a little bit and rest. And I would just rest. I didn’t know how to conquer that feat of pain and actually put in the work off the sand. I just relied on my talent.

“With maturity and taking that step back and realizing ‘You weren’t committed and there’s way more you could have done.’ I learned that during the process of growing as a man, and knowing that there’s way more I could have done, knowing how unique I am as a physical athlete, knowing I could have put in more work. I wish I could have partnered with [Sam Schachter] early, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready. I know everyone’s always seen me as a question mark potential athlete, but I know I had to prove to myself first that the work takes place in the weight room, that the work takes place in the nutrition, and I was a yes guy. I’d always say ‘Let’s go to a party, let’s go to the bar, let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s go out late and show up late to practice.’ I just learned about discipline to be all in.

“So he lit the fire under my ass, and I realized even half a year into that, he could decide to retire and move on and start a family. I said ‘The only thing I can commit to is knowing I can put into the work.’ It’s an everyday thing. I used to be ‘Put in the work, sit on my ass, play video games., and eat like shit.’ Now it’s like ‘No! I need to do this for 30 minutes, and that for 30 minutes, and earn a treat at the end of the day.’

“I was just very immature when I was younger and honestly it took seven years to realize that but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity. I’d rather go to the Olympics and medal rather than have eight years of a shitty career. I got the work ethic now, so let’s go.”

In truth, Schachter very well could have retired had the 25-year-old version of Dearing showed up to the beach. Schachter knew the freaky athleticism Dearing possessed. He’d seen it his whole life, when every tournament would result in the same final matchup: Sam Schachter vs. Dan Dearing. Yet Schachter’s stock ballooned in tune with his work ethic, while Dearing’s career petered out in three forgettable years with a career-high of fifth.

“You watch him play five points and you’re like ‘OK, that guy can play on the world tour.’ The only question was: Is Dan ready to make that jump to do all the competition, the training that’s required, the commitment?” Schachter said. “When I spoke to him awhile back, I said ‘I want to play with you, but you got to show me that you’re ready for this, and you gotta show me that you’re willing to put in the work and keep your body healthy and to go and sacrifice and grind on tour.’

“It’s not always immediate when you come on tour. [Anders] Mol and [Christian] Sorum didn’t light it up immediately on tour. They were obviously extremely talented, and that’s going to get you far, but they weren’t the Mol and Sorum right away.

“So I said to Dan ‘This is important. You need to go out and get experience and it’s going to be hard and you’re probably going to lose a little bit. But you’re earning your stripes, you’re learning how to deal with a loss, you’re learning how to take your punches and stay in the fight.’ I saw him go on tour, and was it sparkles right away? No, but that didn’t deter me from being like ‘This guy doesn’t have it.’ It was ‘This guy’s putting the effort in, and he’s putting he time in and he’s making the sacrifices he needs to make.

“From that standpoint, it showed that level of maturity that we’re looking for in a man that wants to compete against other men who are exceptional at what they do. Once I saw that, it was a completely easy decision.”

So here they are now, longtime rivals turned partners, one potential retiree and a guy who was actually retired for seven years, the No. 2 team in Canada. And they begin the partnership so many in Canada have waited so long for this Wednesday, in Tlaxcala, Mexico, for the first event under the new Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour system. They’ll do so buried deep in the qualifier. The climb will be steep, and it will be hard. Unexpected as this team may have been, they’re only just beginning.

“I was gonna say once you’re done you’re done,” Schachter said, laughing. “But then this guy comes back after seven years!”

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