When South Slocan hero Chris O’Gorman took the stage at the Lifesaving Society’s awards ceremony in Vancouver on March 28, his three friends burst into raucous applause and hooting.
“It was a pretty formal event, and they led us in by bagpipe from one room to the other,” O’Gorman, who works as a cab driver locally, told the Star. “All the RCMP were in scarlet. People were pretty well-behaved but my Kootenay friends, when I took the stage, were all ‘woooo, yeah!’ and that lightened up the whole tone.”
He said that moment of levity inspired the audience to noisily applaud the other award recipients, which included an entire team of breast cancer survivors from the Yukon canoe group Paddlers Abreast.
“Those women were all out rowing, and they ended up hearing someone drowning so they all paddled over and rescued him,” said O’Gorman admiringly.
He said the other award recipients included “nine-year-old boys to 60-year-old men.”
“That was my favourite part of the whole thing, meeting all the other people and hearing the stories. It was so inspiring.”
O’Gorman’s own story is no less inspiring. Featured on the Star’s front page last summer after he used his own canoe and a makeshift paddle to save an 84-year-old Glade resident, the event made him a local legend.
The Lifesaving Society award is meant to honour civilians rescuers. O’Gorman’s rescue was particularly impressive because he returned the man safely home before emergency personnel even arrived.
O’Gorman brought along three friends for his coast trip — his first in years. And though he’s best known to the community for his Davey Crockett-style fringed shirt, for the event he was decked out in a brand-new, never-worn suit from Baker Street Menswear. With his hair neatly combed, he looked almost unrecognizable.
“I don’t normally dress like that, but the guys at Baker Street Menswear did a good job of fitting and tailoring it. I looked pretty slick.”
A local author working on a manuscript about heroism recently contacted the Star for permission to include our reporting in his book, because he said O’Gorman exemplifies selfless heroism.
And though he’s thrilled to be recognized, O’Gorman maintains his heroic action was the least he could do.
“I read something unrelated to my story, this quote: ‘It’s more about being human than being a hero.’ I thought ‘wow, that’s so right.’”
Thinking back to the moment he realized the man was in trouble and needed help, he said he didn’t have any other choice.
“In the moment you don’t think about other things. You just realize this is a serious situation, this is no laughing matter. I literally broke into a sprint. When you see another human being in trouble, you act.”
The rescued man now has the paddle O’Gorman used during the rescue mounted over his patio at home.