BY ELIZABETH WYMAN | JUNE 28, 2020, 10 A.M. (ET)
Tri Bourne competes at the FIVB Las Vegas Open on Oct. 21, 2018 in Las Vegas.
Tri Bourne thought his year would go differently.
A 2020 U.S. Olympic hopeful, the University of Southern California grad thought he would be in season, playing overseas and making a run for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Beach Volleyball Team.
Instead, he’s soaking up all the dad time he was expecting to miss with his 8-month-old daughter, Naia.
“I was ready to sacrifice a lot of time away from her,” said Bourne. "Instead I get to spend all of this time, every single day with her, seeing her through her first year.”
However, this isn’t the first time Bourne has used unexpected time away from sport and turned it into a positive.
The 31-year-old missed nearly two years of competition in 2017-2018 when he was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a rare and chronic inflammatory muscle disease.
“I had kind of thought things would go a certain way in my mind and all of the sudden it was switched, and one thing that I'm grateful for is I had a lot of support around me,” said Bourne. "I was able to choose to take it head on and take it on as a challenge. Because I did that, I feel like I came out with a lot more experience and knowledge.”
Bourne had foot surgery after the 2016 season, and that’s what doctors believe initiated the inflammatory muscle disease.
After trying to play through the pain, he was eventually took off 22 months to recover before making his return at the 2018 Manhattan Beach Open where he partnered with fellow national team member Trevor Crabb.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Bourne. "It was a bit emotional as well because there were points where I wasn’t sure I would be able to go out there and play again.”
Despite the hardships and uncertainty of his illness, which he likely will have to deal with for the rest of his life, Bourne said he used the time away to understand his purpose.
“Since I couldn’t work out and I couldn’t play volleyball, I just tried to learn more about the sport and studied the game,” said Bourne. “It was just an opportunity to overcome a challenge and grow as a person. Although it was difficult to get through, I'm glad that I experienced that.”
In 2018 while recovering from his illness, Bourne along with Travis Mewhirter, beach volleyball player and journalist, created SANDCAST, a beach volleyball podcast.
“What I wanted to get from it was to share all the amazing stories and insights that I get to hear on the road traveling with these other athletes,” said Bourne. “I wanted to share that with the fans because I thought that would bring a lot of value for them and just for our sport in general.”
Every Wednesday since, the pair have released episodes that shed light on topics relevant to the sport, athlete storylines and influencers in the game of volleyball.
With collegiate volleyball on the rise in recent years, college tends to be a hot topic with Bourne and Mewhirter.
College coaches like Texas Christian University women’s beach coach Hector Gutierrez and Pepperdine’s Marcio Sicoli have been guests on the podcast along with UCLA standout Savy Simo, who recently talked about her decision to return to school for another season.
Bourne spent his college career playing indoor volleyball for USC, where he helped the Trojans earn a silver medal in the 2009 NCAA men’s volleyball tournament.
“Going to an elite university like USC, it was kind of eye opening to see the professionalism they taught us, and how we should and how we can act to get the most out of ourselves,” said Bourne.
Bourne said the podcast and the positive changes he’s made in his life since it took off wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t forced to step away from competition to deal with his illness
“I came to understand on a deeper level who I was and what my purpose was,” said Bourne. “That just motivated me to get through it, and I really did believe I could gain something from that time off. For whatever reason, deep down, I believed I could get better during that time and what I had to go through would be something that I could use in the future to reach my ultimate goal.”
That’s the same mindset Bourne has now as his Olympic dreams have again been put on hold.
Bourne and then partner John Hyden narrowly missed out on making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
“With this postponement I'm gaining more and more confidence like this is happening for me, the stars are aligning, and I feel like I can use this extra year to my advantage.”