From Short People to kicking around the NCAA volleyball round of 16
December 5, 2023
August 18, 2021
HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Tri Bourne hadn’t been to a Dairy Queen in 15 years. His has been a carefully crafted diet, made even more specific to a body that will likely always be affected by an autoimmune condition. Yet there were those white letters, all caps, ‘DQ’, staring at him as he drove back to California from a trip to see family in Las Vegas.
And why not? His Olympic dream was over, dashed a few weeks prior, in Ostrava. There wouldn’t be an AVP tournament for a month. He could indulge a little. So it was that, of all places, at a Dairy Queen off the 15 South, that Bourne received the call that changed his everything.
By now you know the story. You know that it was Jake Gibb on the other end of the line. That his partner, Taylor Crabb, tested positive for COVID. That Gibb had initially called Trevor Crabb, but Trevor hurt his back. That Gibb then had to resort to Bourne as a last gasp in his final Olympic Games.
“I was in shock,” Bourne said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Me and Trevor are supposed to play in Atlantic City in two days, how do I not know his back is hurt? But I said ‘First of all, sorry to hear, that’s terrible, but I was just f****** working out in the garage, in 105 degrees. Dude, I’m ready. I’m f****** super ready. I’ve been training. I’ve been in the heat. I went to Gstaad. I’m mentally prepared. If I f****** get on the plane and fly out to Tokyo I’m going out there for gold.’
“He kind of pepped up a little bit, like ‘Let’s do this.’ He was super depressed, last resort, just whatever. But he said when I gave him that fired up response, it gave him some extra energy. At least someone else wants it and is going to do everything he can to let me live out this Olympic bid.”
Bourne walked out of the Dairy Queen. No blizzards just yet. He scooped up his daughter, Naia, and walked over to Subway instead.
“I hung up and was like ‘Holy crap,’ ” Bourne said. “‘I need to get on a flight from LA to Tokyo.’ ”
Bourne still can’t really comprehend what all has transpired over the past month. He still can’t really comprehend what has transpired over the last 32 years, really. Every time the world seems to be shutting him out of volleyball, a side door opens. Attending a high school with 20 kids in his graduation class, a school so tiny it had to force kids to play basketball just to field a team? No problem. Bourne would just go to the Outrigger Canoe Club, every single day, until a few buddies all but dragged him to play organized volleyball for once.
Not recruited to play for any colleges? No problem there, either. His good friend, Riley McKibbin, a heralded recruit for USC, would phone his coaches, tell them not to bother recruiting him anymore, that he was committed, but they should take a look at his buddy, Tri Bourne.
No prospects on the beach after a professional indoor career in Puerto Rico? Whatever. Bourne was happy to play practice dummy for John Hyden until — what? Hyden wanted to actually play with him?
Autoimmune disease forced him off the beach for close to two years? Bourne would use the time in other ways. He’d meditate. Read. Launch a podcast. Commentate. Study the sport from every other angle, taking the macro perspective, seeing it from the outside.
Then he’d win his first international event back.
Broken hand limiting him at the end of the 2019 season? Hell, he’ll play lefty.
Didn’t qualify for Tokyo?
He’d stay ready, getting right back in the garage gyms with the 100-plus degree heat.
Then he’d finish an Olympic Games he was never supposed to be in with the highest hitting percentage in the entire field, men’s or women’s.
There’s a common theme here, an undercurrent to Bourne’s life: Whether he consciously realized it or not, he stayed ready. Ready for what? He couldn’t have ever known. Couldn’t have known that McKibbin would become his own personal head of recruiting. That Hyden was actually trying him out. That his body would ever be healthy enough to return to the beach. That Gibb would need a substitute.
Whatever opportunity would eventually knocking, Bourne has never known. All he knew was that he needed to stay ready, so that when the opportunity came, he’d take advantage.
“I just feel like the relentless energy I just kept putting in towards this thing made it come to me,” he said. “It was like a magnet — it doesn’t want to go to Tri, but it can’t not. It was just a trip. I found something I kept working towards and working towards that was that cool for me, that interesting, and that’s why I had the energy and ability to push forward through all this stuff.”
Now the garage on his new house in Hermosa Beach reads “Welcome home Olympian!” Now he’s able to wear the Ralph Lauren clothing branded with the Olympic rings. Now he’s achieved the Olympic label he’s always wanted.
Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. Naia doesn’t know or care that dad’s an Olympian; she just wants someone to see her shoes with the little sushis on them. People in the airport and grocery store now recognize him and ask for photos, but he’s still just Tri Bourne, the same guy he was when he was in that Dairy Queen just a few weeks before.
“Now that I have the Olympic label, I’m like: ‘Uh, OK,’ ” Bourne said. “On my way back, I was trying to comprehend it, and I still can’t comprehend it. But I was thinking: What’s next?”
Next? Next is the Manhattan Beach Open. Another mountain he has yet to climb. Then Chicago. Two more events and then who knows? Whatever comes, whatever the future brings, all Bourne can do, all he knows how to do, is stay ready.