Tri Bourne knew he was in trouble when a doctor told him not to get on the plane.
Sure, Bourne hadn’t been feeling great. His joints had been swollen and painful, and fatigue led him to take long naps in the middle of the day.
Photo Credit: FIVB
But Bourne, who was 27 at the time, was a beach volleyball player in his prime. He and partner John Hyden had even earned enough FIVB points to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. They were the third-place U.S. men’s team, and only two teams from one country can qualify.
He had been pushing through the pain and fatigue, and he was ready to begin the 2017 season in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he got the phone call.
“The doctor said my blood test results showed my liver enzymes were too high, and it was too dangerous for me to travel,” Bourne said. “He said, ‘Your body is not in a safe place to compete at that level.’ Obviously, I had to listen.”
Doctors didn’t know why Bourne’s enzymes were elevated. He visited several doctors before the U.S. Olympic Committee sent him to top specialists at the University of Utah in April of 2017. They diagnosed Bourne with dermatomyositis, which the Mayo Clinic defines as an “uncommon inflammatory disease marked by muscle weakness and a distinctive skin rash.”
There is no cure for dermatomyositis, but it can be treated and pushed into remission, for which Bourne was grateful.
“That was my reaction, ‘Thank God, we have a diagnosis. Now we can attack it, finally,’” he said. “The unknown had been killing me.”
Bourne worked with a rheumatologist, who used steroids to help reduce the inflammation. He also changed to an anti-inflammatory diet and used supplements.
Bourne couldn’t train during his long recovery, so he started pursuing other interests.
“Knowing I was going to miss a lot of time playing volleyball, I wanted to make sure I came out of the whole process having gained something,” he said. “I couldn’t put my energy into physical activities, so I used it as an opportunity to grow as a person.”
Bourne took a video hosting class, which helped him with on-camera and public speaking, and offered to commentate AVP broadcasts online. He started a podcast called “The Sandcast” with beach volleyball player Travis Mewhirter and improved his interview skills.
Bourne also used the free time to plan his wedding. He and wife Gabrielle, who had supported him throughout his illness, were married in December 2017 in Hawaii.
After more than a year of recovery, Bourne returned to the sand with new partner Trevor Crabb in August 2018 at the AVP event in Manhattan Beach. The pair was seeded 11th, but finished seventh. Two weeks later, the team placed fifth at AVP Chicago. Then they placed third at the AVP event in Bourne and Crabb’s home state of Hawaii, where they beat Olympians Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in their first match.
The pair made its international debut at an FIVB three-star event in Qinzhou, China, and won. They went on to finish fourth at the FIVB four-star event in Las Vegas.
“It makes me really confident,” Bourne said of the strong results. “My body isn’t even fully back and we did pretty amazing.”
Photo Credit: FIVB
Bourne made a documentary about his experience, in part to help those who have reached out to him about dealing with illness and injury.
“I’m happy to share my experience with everybody,” he said. “That’s a big part of making the documentary. We wanted to share our story with people who are going through a similar struggle.”
As Bourne pursues his dream of playing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he wants to keep his life – and his health – in balance.
“I have my physical abilities back, but I know the value of the non-active abilities as well,” he said. “I could easily go back to being fulfilled by physical activities, but I don’t want that.”
Bourne has also developed his own brand, using a triangular logo that represents the three tides.
Photo Credit: Ed Chan
“I definitely have a new perspective,” he said. “I think it’s really important to have on-court and off-court life co-exist while I am still a player. I want to learn the business of volleyball and see where I fit in there and pursue the pathway that seems most authentic.”
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