It seems an idyllic existence, to be a professional beach volleyball player. Travel the world. Explore the planet’s most breathtaking beaches. See everything there is to see, both inland and coastal. Play in front of thousands of adoring fans. Sign autographs. Take pictures.
Live the life Instagram would love you to have.
That’s all true, yes. Tri Bourne gets to travel the world. He gets to explore the planet’s most breathtaking beaches, eat all the world’s best and unique foods. He gets to see everything there is to see.
Including 2 a.m. in Jinjiang, China. A world away from his family, his pregnant wife, running on two hours of sleep per night for the previous few nights, having just spent the previous 45 hours on planes and buses and shuttles, crammed into spaces not made for abnormally large men who need to use their bodies to make a living. That, and Bourne’s body has been notoriously rebellious these past two years, with an autoimmune disease that has made traveling the world to play a sport with exceptionally high demands on the body that much more stressful.
Most don’t recognize that side of the sport.
Bourne, back full-time on the world tour for the first time since 2016, is again feeling its effects.
“I was up at 2 multiple times,” he said of his time at the Jinjiang four-star, where he and Trevor Crabb finished fourth. “Dude, just freaking lay there. It’s brutal. We kept losing time. We kept going the same direction without going back, so we were going around the world and you had to adjust. So when we got used to it being 7 a.m., we had to adjust.”
Adjusting is the name of the game for professional beach volleyball players. As Kerri Walsh Jennings said from Ostrava, the tournament following Jinjiang – where her and Brooke Sweat claimed their first gold medal as a team – “jet lag doesn’t discriminate.”
Then she was off to the sauna to sweat out some of that jet lag. Which brings up the next aspect of life on the world tour: Staying fit and healthy, maintaining those lean bodies seen on livestreams and TV, is not the easiest of tasks. Hardly.
“It’s difficult,” Bourne said. “A lot of times, we’re using our matches to get us into shape. These tournaments where we’re going seven matches in, you have two days of travel and then you need to recover from that travel, then you have a day or two before you play, so you don’t really have any time.
“Our lifts were super jet lagged. We were just trying to open the body up because everything is super locked up from the plane. And when you haven’t gotten great sleep, you’re sore, you don’t want to push it, because that’s how you hurt yourself. There’s really not much lifting or practicing.”
So they play. They play in Brazil and China and Czech and, hey, last week they even had the chance to play in the United States, for AVP New York! It wasn’t home, necessarily, but it was as close as it gets for life on the world tour. Everyone speaks English. The food is familiar. There’s family. Gyms.
And now, after a quick stay, Bourne and the rest of the U.S. Olympic hopefuls are back on the road, to Warsaw, Poland. Some had to play a country quota, hardly a day to prepare for the cut-throat nature of the single-elimination format. Others will be in the qualifier.
Everyone will be fighting the same, tired, thrilling, exhausted, rewarding, wonderful battle.
“You watch some video, you’re playing,” Bourne said, “then you’re back to preparation.”