The lady at the grocery store had no idea who Tri Bourne was, or what he had been through, prior to getting to the front of her checkout line. She had no idea that the lanky, 6-foot-5 31-year-old is currently the No. 13 ranked beach volleyball team in the world. She had no idea that he has become the No. 13 ranked beach volleyball team in the world after taking two years off recovering from an autoimmune disease. She had no idea that being ranked No. 13 was not enough to qualify for the Olympic Games (well, it is, but that is a technicality for another day).
She had no idea that the weekend before, in Ostrava, Bourne’s Olympic race had come to an end.
“How’s your day?” she asked Bourne.
“Oh,” Bourne recalled replying on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It’s Monday. It’s definitely a Monday feeling.”
Now Bourne, for the second time of his career, is left wondering: What now?
What do you do after a 33-month journey — one doctors and friends and family thought might not be possible, after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease — has reached a deflating end, 360 points behind Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb? Where do you find the motivation at practice, when for nearly three years, that motivation was the same: The Tokyo Olympic Games?
His supporting cast has not let him wonder this for long. On Monday, after a week off, taking time with his wife, Gabby, and daughter, Naia, Bourne was back in the Valley, in the training garage of Mykel Jenkins.
“Mykel gave me a good talking to, just what great athletes do,” Bourne said. “They go back to work. You lose and you don’t make up a situation where you say ‘It’s ok, you tried your hardest!’ No. You lost. You go back to work. You look at Kobe [Bryant], [Michael Jordan], what do they do? They lost the NBA finals and they’re in the gym the next day.
“Not that I need to try and be someone else, but the mindset is: I’m going to use this time to get better when everybody else is taking off, so down the line, when people are trying to catch you, there’s not enough time in the day to catch up.
“Mykel just reminded me that you gained so much in the journey. Don’t let the fact that you went all the way to the end, don’t let the fact that you didn’t reach the peak take away from the fact that you grew. We’re all about growth.”
The growth Bourne, and his partner, Trevor Crabb, displayed over the past three years has been nothing shy of astounding. They won their first international tournament as a team, a three-star FIVB in Qinzhou, China. Bourne, because of a broken hand, played one event, the Rome World Tour Finals, left-handed. They won the final AVP Champions Cup. When they needed to make their Olympic push the most, they did, finishing the qualifying process with five straight top-10 finishes, pushing the race to the penultimate day.
They could have buckled at any point. Twice they could have been eliminated in Cancun, and again the race could have ended in Sochi. They could have been knocked out of pool play in Ostrava and didn’t allow that to happen, either. The pressure of this Olympic race could have crushed them entirely, yet it did the opposite.
It provided opportunities for growth that simply cannot be simulated anywhere else.
“That was a cool experience,” Bourne said. “It was like ‘Ok, I’ve earned myself a new experience at a higher level of athletic experience. This is next level pressure. This is extreme pressure. We cannot lose.’ This isn’t the pressure that I wanted. I wanted it to be a gold medal match or Olympics or something like that, not scraping and holding on for dear life, but you could argue that’s even more pressure.
“In that sense, what’s really cool is that I can say I grew as an athlete. That’s my goal. I want to get better and better and it becomes harder and harder as you get older. It’s not like you’ve done it all, but you have to keep raising that bar.
“I don’t know what the odds were, but they were stacked against us big time. Just coming to terms with ‘Ok, if we’re going to fail here, we’re going to do it the right way. We need to go all in, focus, do everything we possibly can so at the end of the day we did everything we could.’
“That’s where we’re at right now. Looking back at the matches we lost that we needed to win, I don’t have anything. It wasn’t our time. It just wasn’t meant to be, but we have a lot of time left in our careers to keep pursuing our goal.
“The more times you put yourself in that situation, the more comfortable you get and you’re able to relax and stay present and see things that other people maybe aren’t able to see. That confidence comes up. It’s like Kobe being in the NBA finals, or LeBron [James]. They perform well because they’ve been there before.”
Bourne has now been there twice, in the throes of the highest-pressure moments in the sport of beach volleyball can provide. He’s better for it.
Like Kobe or Jordan or LeBron, the time for self-pity has come and gone in a flash. He’s back on the sand, back in the gym. He’s growing.
“This,” he said, “is just what I do.”