Episode #109: April Ross – Beach Volleyball Olympic Medalist
My guest is Beach Volleyball Olympian April Ross. You know how much fun this conversation was for me.
April shares her journey from winning in high school, multiple national championships with USC, and now 3 Olympic medals as a professional. Her ability to set goals and win is stunning, but there is so much more.
April understands what works for her, but simultaneously keeps a growth mindset and stays open to learning. She also shared what it was like as a 19-year-old college sophomore athlete to lose her mom to breast cancer.
We discussed the process of re-examining everything even though something worked for a while. Covid has been difficult on so many levels for so many people, but April and her partner shared how that extra year of training and time was instrumental in helping them win the gold.
She is experienced, strong, and isn’t looking to retire. April discusses her excitement about what other things there are for her to learn and experience as an athlete and a person. This is a woman who has such an interesting balance of relaxed, calm, and “chill” with relentless intensity and focus. There is a lot to learn from April Ross.
Listen to the episode here:
- Winning Championships [00:06:39]
- Life and Volleyball [00:13:03]
- Process of Learning [00:20:48]
- Body Care [00:28:16]
- Training to Maintain [00:35:36]
- Nutrition [00:47:49]
- Getting the Gold and What’s Next? [00:53:50]
- Parallel Traits in Sports and Life [01:10:27]
April Ross – Beach Volleyball Olympic Medalist
My guest is Olympic champion, beach volleyball player April Ross. She has won at every level. She won at high school. She won two national championships with USC Indoor. One year they went undefeated, which is hard to do. Then she redirected her energy and decided she would play beach volleyball. She since has won a bronze medal, a silver medal, and now a gold medal.
We had a wonderful conversation. For me, it was such a treat because we’re from different generations. It was a real honor and a treat to have that time with her. We talked about all that she’s been through. She changed partners. In her sophomore year of college, she lost her mother to breast cancer. How do you show up for school and you’re expected to play and perform and grieve at the same time? How do you navigate that at 19 years old? How do you switch partners and even take a chance?
She won the gold with Alix Klineman who was an accomplished indoor player but hadn’t played much beach volleyball. April decided to go for the Olympics with her in 2020 and they did it. What did that look like? What was the process? How did they get that done? How did you have the confidence? She talked about believing in Alix and Alix’s intention even before the skill had caught up.
It was fascinating to see somebody who is so focused, goal-oriented, driven, hardworking, a killer, and chill. It’s hard to pursue anything at the highest level and give it everything you have, and yet still try to keep developing yourself and building yourself out as a human being. April is an example of somebody who wants to keep learning and keep their eyes open, but also is willing to say, “This is what works for me.”
Before we did this conversation, I called one of her coaches and we talked about April and some things she said that I thought were important. Is she the best, number one in every category passing or hitting or blocking or serving on the beach? She’s not, but she is the best player and that says everything. Here’s somebody who can put it all together. They know themselves. They’re mentally tough. They adapt when things aren’t going how they should and they’re not afraid to say, “I want to do that,” and then do what it takes to make that happen, so I hope you enjoy.
April Ross, thank you for coming to my home. I appreciate it. I was thinking about it because if you try to look at it from the other person’s point of view, you’ve been on a face pole. Now you’re moving into months. I appreciate you taking this into your schedule. Are you home or do you have something else?
My house has been under construction for a year. It was supposed to take three months. I was redoing my house while I was training for the Olympics because I needed more stress in my life. I thought, “After the Olympics, I’m going to be able to move back into my house.” “Nope, not yet.”
Are you close?
Did you change your mind?
When you’re in any kind of construction, the death of it is making any changes.
I have made plenty of changes along the way. I’m on the road or I’m in a tournament and my contractor is like, “What tile do you want in your bathroom?” I’m like, “I don’t know. They all look the same online.” I don’t have time to go to the store. I get home and I don’t like it. A lot of it is my fault. Hopefully, by the holidays, I’ll be back. Right now, I’m in Manhattan Beach with my boyfriend, so little close to Malibu.
Will you go forward through the holidays where you get to stay in California or will you be bopping a little bit more?
I feel like I just entered my offseason, so now it’s a lot of being home. In the past, I’ve always wanted to go and get away and vacation somewhere else. Now I’m like, “I just want to stay home.” For me, that’s the relaxing vacation part. I am going to Montana with my sister and her husband’s family for Thanksgiving for a week. It’s out in the middle of nowhere on a river, so that’s peaceful out there.
Also with your niece and nephew. You get that injection of family time. I’ll bring people up to speed. You’re coming off winning gold, but you have won a bronze medal and a silver medal in the Olympics. You’ve won anything in indoor volleyball as far as university. You’ve won championships. I have to ask you about having an undefeated season because I was around when UCLA had an undefeated season and then they lost in the finals. Do you know about this?
No, I don’t.
This is a long time ago. You were a teenager. It was Natalie Williams and Elaine Youngs, and they had this crazy season. It was women against girls when they went to play. They ate everyone alive. I’m going to go on a limb and say that they always won even in straight sets. They didn’t even drop.
I can picture you being on a team like that.
I played professional fours with Natalie Williams and she also played in the WNBA for multiple years. She was highly talented. She was All-American at UCLA in basketball and volleyball. They had a lot of talent, and then they lost in the finals. When I saw that you guys won in one, there’s something interesting for me about it. It starts there for a champion like you. Here we are years later, there were things that occurred there that maybe gave you some lesson. Was it your coaches? Was it the team? Because the pressure builds when you’re undefeated. What was the conversation at USC? Because then it becomes, “It’s yours to lose.”
I feel like that’s been a common theme of all the teams I’ve been on. In high school, we were good. In club, we were good. I also had tough coaches who yelled, punished us, and made it tough. Even when you think you’re doing well, they find what you’re doing poorly so you have to be like, “I’m going to prove to you that I can do this and I’m good.”
[bctt tweet=”It doesn’t matter what you’ve been taught if that’s not working, do something else.”]
When we started winning in high school, it wasn’t as intense as college. Our coach and the people around us wanted us to win, but it was almost like our team wanted to win more than anybody else. We pushed each other. That was the same thing in college but times ten. At USC, I felt like I was surrounded by the most competitive, intense, gnarly athletes, and losing was not okay. We were all or nothing in all parts of our life.
When it came to training, we pushed each other, we yelled at each other. It was okay because we knew what we were going for. In my junior year, we lost one match, so almost undefeated. Then we won the national championship, and the next year, it was like, “How are we going to improve upon that? That one loss wasn’t okay.” We were rolling.
The more we won, the more we knew we could and the more we needed to. We pushed ourselves. Our coach at the time didn’t know what to do with it. He was like, “Let us go with it.” He was like, “Guys, be careful of this.” He allowed us to do our thing. They were some of the most intense athletes I’ve ever been around.
You’ve talked about it a lot that your sophomore year, your mom passed away of breast cancer or it started there at least. If you have the opportunity to go into college, especially if you go in for sport, you do come out a different person. You grow up, there are life lessons, and all these things, but you had double things happening. At that level, you’re a professional athlete.
You’re earning your education.
It’s hard. When you go to the professional level, everyone’s that good and they’re that next level, but ultimately, you’re getting that already at USC. I’m interested to know, when you came out of USC, with the volleyball and even the situation with your mom, how were you different than when you went in? Because you were already an intense athlete coming out of high school.
When my mom passed, it made everything feel a little bit more important. I was in control of my future. If I did something bad, my mom wasn’t there to be like, “April, what are you doing?” I had to police myself a little bit more at that point. I started viewing things as like, “What would make my mom proud?”
At first, I was grieving. I wasn’t going to class. I was partying too hard and my grades slipped and my volleyball fell apart. I had this moment where I was checking my grades, sitting there, and was devastated and thinking about what had gone on volleyball-wise. I was like, “What would my mom want me to do and what would make her proud?” It flipped a switch for me.
I got a paper planner and I said, “These are my classes. I’m going to every single class. I’m going to bed by 10:00 PM every night.” I got regimented and that was a big turning point for me. I got great grades in the last two years of my time at USC and won two national championships. Both those things happening, thinking about what my mom would want me to do and then also seeing it pay off volleyball-wise and how we won became ingrained in me. It was like figuring out the formula for success a little bit or what it was for me.
There’s been ups and downs, and I’ve fallen off here and there. I knew to this day, “This is what it takes to be disciplined and do what I want to do.” That was good groundwork, especially going into beach volleyball. I went into pro indoor volleyball thinking, “I’m going to make some money so that I can go back to school and do what I want career-wise.”
You’re talking about law school, right?
Yeah. I wanted to go back to law school and become a lawyer. I thought, “I’m competitive. I can argue.” That was my purpose for playing indoor professionally and I hated it. Every season, I couldn’t stand it. I was like, “After the first year, I’m not going back up.” “After the second year, I’m not going back up.” Finally, after the third season, I was like, “I’m done. I quit volleyball.” I moved on to beach eventually, but that groundwork of being self-motivated and routine-driven has helped me so much.
A lot of people will see someone like you and this list of accomplishments, you’re big and strong, and you make it look easy when you compete, it’s interesting to watch you play because you have this even temperament that not all athletes have. You can see when they’re up and they’re a little more fired up. You can see when they’re down. It looks to me when I watch you that you have steadiness and are a little more fired up. It doesn’t look like you have found the way to either conceal or manage the, “It’s not going our way right now. Momentum is on the other side.”
People see that and they go, “Shoot, it’s so easy.” Anytime anybody does anything well, it looks easy. Nobody understands all the intricacies that are in there. This self-motivation piece, you’ve been at this a long time. When you came out of USC, you have that high level and that high intensity. Were you still in love with volleyball?
I don’t think so, to be honest. I had trained with the National Indoor Team every summer. For me, every step of my journey, I get somewhere and experience success, and be like, “What’s the next thing that I can push myself to try and do?” It was like, “Let’s make it to the national team and go for the Olympics,” and all that.
I had discouraging experiences with the National Indoor Team. It wasn’t something, after college, I could go and pursue. I wanted to play professionally. I had an avenue to do that, so I did that as a means to do what I wanted to do next. I wasn’t into volleyball. It was something I did well and I could make money doing so I did it, but I didn’t know how to take care of myself so my body broke down. Physically, I was hurt. Mentally and emotionally, I secluded myself down there. I felt far away from family and friends. I didn’t make friends while I was down there. It was a perfect storm of what can make you miserable.
Every time you go to do something, it’s almost like a time out of your real life so you’ll figure out how to have a real-life simultaneously.
I didn’t understand how to make that balance work, so I completely fell out of love with the sport.
Where does beach volleyball enter? Had you dibble-dabbled at all when you were young? Was there even time for that? Where did that come from?
My coach at Newport Harbor made us go in the offseason and cross-train in the sand because he’s a big beach guy. He would take us to San O and make us go surfing and do all of that. Looking back, it was great but we all hated those days on the beach because you’re this good indoor player and then you have to go out on the beach where there’s wind and there’s sand. You have to move in the sand and then you feel terrible, and then we’d have to do conditioning in the sand, which anybody knows it’s the worst thing you could possibly have to do. I grew up saying that I hated beach volleyball and it was never on my radar. That wasn’t what I was going to play. My high school and club coach always said, “You’d be a great beach player.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t like it.”
That’s why Alix is interesting because she’s so big, she’s so tall, and she’s fine. I call her small big girl. I’m a little bit like that. You have this athlete such as yourself where you’re big, but not too big that you can’t move. Your fundamentals are solid. You can get to the ball, but you can hit the ball and you can block. It is almost the perfect athlete. You leave from Puerto Rico. Do you think, “It’s over. I’m done with volleyball. That part of my life is done.” What happens? How do you go from there and make it to the beach?
I quit. I needed some time to figure out what I was going to do. My stepsister worked at the House of Blues in Anaheim at Disneyland and I’m like, “Can I have a job just over the summer?” She made me a hostess and I took great pride in that. It was a fun summer. I was looking into, “Do I want to go back to school?” I did that all summer and then in the fall, I was toying around with going back to Puerto Rico. I’m like, “I do not want to do this.”
Is that work or is that identity? Do you ever feel this way, sometimes for athletes, we think it’s common that it’s like, “That’s what I do.”
I feel like it was an opportunity. I’ve always been the type of person that’s like, “This opportunity is there.” I say yes to it. I was paid well for Puerto Rico. I could have gone back and made more money, and it was an easy thing to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do that. Holly McPeak reached out to me and was like, “You’d be good at the beach game.”
Just out of the blue?
I had gone down and play it a little bit, so she got wind of it and she was like, “If you stay here and train all winter, you could be good at this.” I decided to forego Puerto Rico and stay in train.
You trained with Holly?
No, I trained with Nancy Mason.
You like the brutes.
I did train with Holly a little bit at the beginning to get going. She was one that encouraged me to make that switch permanently. I felt like I started to have success and fell in love with the game and stuck with it.
What do you do in those transitions? Let’s say a lot of people have one kind of career and then they’re moving the other desire along, and then it becomes real enough that they say, “I’m going to put more energy and time into this.” My friend Neil Strauss talked about it being two trains. The one train is moving now at this speed. It’s okay to get off the train that we know and get on to this other one.
Was it the people around you? Was it a combination? I know you’re close to your sister. Where do you get the confidence? I know you did well early, but it’s a hard transition. Also, you’re talking about a sport that doesn’t have a ton of opportunity. You’re still talking about a platform that’s tough even when you’re killing it. Is it inside you and you go, “I’m going to see and take this to the end. I’ve done it in high school. I’ve done it in college. I know how to work hard, learn, grind it out, and compete.” Is it important that the people around you look at you and be like, “Yeah, good.”
My parents always let me make my own decisions growing up and what I want to do. They were encouraging. I’ve always been able to feel like I make the best decision for me and they’re always supportive. I never feel like anyone around me is fighting me on anything I want to do. If I am unsure, I’ll ask them about stuff.
In this case, I felt it was so deep within me that it resonated so much. I love this game and it was more than playing. It was the people that were there. It was the travel. I’ve always wanted to travel the world and beach volleyball is a perfect excuse to see the world. You’re going somewhere new every week. I fell in such deep love with it even when I wasn’t good at it. It drove me and it motivated me to get better every day, and pushing yourself to your potential is an addicting feeling. I forgot all about going back to school. I was addicted to beach volleyball and that’s what I wanted to do.
What’s the process of learning for you? Some people put their heads down and grind through it. Other people are analytical. The most dangerous ones have a combination. When you’re approaching something new, how do you find your way? It’s so difficult when we’re taking on something new, even though it is exciting because you get those growth opportunities. How do you orient yourself in these unknown environments?
I tend to jump in headfirst. Beach volleyball, for example, top players would need a team to play against. This is probably the first two weeks I’m out there. I don’t know what these terms mean. I don’t know what pulling off the net means. I don’t know what that is and I’m playing against Jenny and Annette who are in a top team at the time. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m a huge believer, in sports especially, in finding the best competition you can go against. Put yourself in the most uncomfortable position you can and learn. That’s what I did a lot at the beginning and I learned so much. I feel like I’ve always had this beginner’s mindset. I try to learn from everyone I’ve been coached.
Throughout the years, if something new is brought to me, I tend to find it a little bit more and I get a little upset with myself. I want to be open-minded. Back then, I knew that I didn’t know anything so I was open to everything, whatever you have to tell me. Now I’m a little more particular about how I want to do things. This happened in this last quad. A coach was trying to get us to do something different and I have to be able to have a discussion about it. I have to understand why this is better than the way I’m doing it.
Is this pertaining to a volleyball strategy or training?
A volleyball strategy. I played defense this way my entire career and he wants me to do it this way and change it. We had a talk after Tokyo and he’s like, “You are so difficult.” In a jokingly way, he’s crushing me about how difficult I am but he’s like, “It wouldn’t have worked any other way.” To his credit, he was open about his people who have authority, or coaches sometimes can say, “We’re doing it this way.” No discussion. I questioned him daily about why we’re doing it this way and he answered me every single time and proved to me why we should do it. He showed me video. I don’t know if that’s a good way to go about it, but that’s how I learned now. It has to be collaborative and I have to buy in 100%.
In life, there’s instinct. You had an instinct about Alix, but then when you have enough experience, it should be also, “I’m trying to understand what we’re doing because I have a certain amount of understanding already.”
I know what I know. I know there’s a lot that I still don’t know, but I know more than I used to know so you have to tell me.
Was it a blend of where you were and he was? Or did you adopt his system?
I completely adopted his system.
When you tell me this, it makes me think though that maybe we go along in whatever we’re doing in life. It doesn’t have to be sport. We have a certain capability and understanding, and then we’re ready for the next. Maybe he couldn’t have come five years before and even shared this with you because you weren’t even ready. Maybe your understanding got you to a place where it’s like, “Good. You know that. Now check this out.”
Possibly. I feel like I’ve had those steps with every coach. Every coach has shown up. Maybe it’s just my capacity to change at that point, but they’ve taught me something new. I’ve adjusted a little bit. At this defensive part, I’ve played the same way my entire career. Honestly, that was the piece that needed to change for Alix and I to be successful this time at the Olympics, so it was the right timing. Maybe it was the universe sending it to me. I firmly believe in all that. Maybe deep down, you know what you need to change and you attract it to you.
It is an interesting thing though because we don’t get to know the next thing until we know enough about where we are. It’s so uncomfortable because you’re like, “No, this works for me and this feels good. I know this.” It’s like, “Okay. Ready?”
That’s part of what keeps me wanting to play. What’s the next thing I’m going to learn? The game’s evolving, so that makes me evolve. I’m going to need somebody to help me figure out what I need to do next, but I’m excited about it. Part of me also wants to do other stuff with my life and try new things, and I’m excited for that. I feel like when that comes up, I’m going to jump in. I did beach volleyball from the start. I’m totally fine starting at ground zero and learning. That’s exciting to me, but I don’t feel like my journey of learning is done with beach volleyball.
What is it that attracts you when you see something and you think, “That intrigues me. I’m going to pursue that when I have a little more time.”
Psychology. You can tell I love learning. I don’t know if I’m one of the few people or how many people who love going to school, who wants to go back to school so bad. I want to carry the textbooks. I want to go to the library. I want to sit there and read and highlight, and be in class and take notes. I would love to go back to school. Psychology fascinates me and it’s becoming such a larger part of sports now and mental health and sports psychology. I’ve used it a lot to help me and I would love to get involved in that part of it.
[bctt tweet=”Be in it for the journey as much as for the outcomes.”]
What’s fascinating is when somebody has gone through something and understands and learns like the way you approached it in college or when you’re going through a hard time or you’re feeling pressure or it’s not going the way you want it to go. Sports is like life. There’s a physical element to it, but you’re navigating all the same things. That perspective is so important.
Your training was sophisticated I would imagine, even from the beginning of beach volleyball to now you’re off-court training. How have you brought in new modalities of training and understood what works for you? It’s interesting because you talked about in Puerto Rico, you were beaten up. Many years later, you’re healthy.
I talked to Angie Akers who’s your coach. She talks about how healthy you are. A lot of people are always looking, whether they’re athletes or not, at ways to improve and train. How do you go about that process? You have to follow something long enough to even see if it works and you can’t bounce all over the place, but you have to keep an open mind. How did you make that journey? How did you collect new information? What does that look like now?
I haven’t even deconstructed that myself yet. Having my body feel the way it felt in Puerto Rico was traumatic and I never want that again. My knee was terrible. I couldn’t jump off of it. Touching it to the ground made it hurt. I couldn’t raise my arm above my shoulder. In my last match in Puerto Rico, I tipped from my shoulder every single ball. I thought for sure I needed surgery. I was blown away that I didn’t.
At that point, I made a commitment to taking care of my body. I worked with different strength and conditioning coaches. I did some circuit training. I feel like I’ve collected little things over the years. I’ve googled stuff when my shoulder is hurting and gotten ideas off of the internet. I worked with a trainer. My shoulder was bothering me in 2017 and I saw this guy doing some crazy stuff at the beach. I got to talking to him and he thought he could help me with my shoulder. We started doing nunchucks, Indian Clubs, and all this outside-of-the-box stuff. I’m open to whatever is going to help me. I kept those nunchucks. I used them to warm up for years until they got confiscated at the airport in Brazil.
You travel with nunchucks?
Yeah. They almost got confiscated in Moscow. I got through Moscow, but it got taken away in Rio. I need to order a new pair.
Are you in your room? Are you warming up?
I’m on the beach. People got a kick out of it. I never even thought twice about it because I’m like, “This is just my shoulder.” Everybody else was like, “What are you doing with nunchucks?” They want me to do something cool with it and I’m like, “I can’t do anything cool with it. All I can do is warm up my shoulder.” It helps and I loved it.
Weightlifting is my number one. I spend as much time strengthening my body as I do on the court practicing volleyball. That time in the gym has climbed throughout the years. I’ll spend 2.5 hours at least in the gym weightlifting and doing mobility stuff. Stretching and yoga have become a big part of my routine. People are torn on Bikram Yoga but it feels good for my body. I’m huge on that.
For me, the biggest thing is being strong. I have this push and pull in me, and it was worse in college. Every college athlete maybe relate. You’re in the football weight room lifting super heavy and maybe not eating super well. You feel big and bulky, and you don’t want to look like that. I was strong but also had a good amount of fat on me.
When you’re 18, 19, and 20, you’re still shedding the fact that you’re not eating well. I didn’t eat well in college either.
I finally got it together eventually.
You still also have baby fat. Athletes don’t realize that in a way, you haven’t even ditched some of your extras.
It’s not unhealthy in any way. You start putting on muscle and you start to feel big like, “I hate weightlifting because I don’t want to look like this.” It is the most important thing for an athlete to stay healthy. I’ve come to terms with it and I don’t care what I look like. I am superstitious about what I look like on the court. If I try to make myself look any better, if I were to put on waterproof mascara or do something different with my hair to try to make it look cuter, I lose every single time.
I can’t care about my appearance. It’s just a superstition for me. I put my hair in a ponytail. There are shark fins and things sticking out, and I can’t care about it. It’s part of the bigger overall body confidence thing. Accept the way you look. Do what makes you feel good and healthy. Who cares what you look like to anybody else?
Laird and I talk about this a lot. If he was here and he would see a woman like you, he’d be like, “That body does something.”
That’s at the bottom of it, being grateful for what my body does for me.
Especially for women, it makes sense, we get hammered all the time about the way that we look. When you can have this vessel that not only is healthy that you’re grateful for, but also it does something, it’s badass. There’s nothing more badass or sexy. I don’t care what black dress anybody has. This is somebody from the outside who knows a little bit about it. It gives the vibration of not only stoicism but it’s like, “I’m here to play. I’m not here for any other reason.”
In a way, whether you realize it or not, I would imagine it also intimidates your opponents because they’re like, “She is here to play.” If I played badly with certain glasses, I would get rid of them. I never played in red because I never seemed to perform in the early years good in red. Did you have any weird superstitions?
I used to be superstitious. In college, I would have to set my water cup on the line and step over my cup every time. It was ridiculous stuff that didn’t matter. The more I understood psychology and confidence, it’s like, “I don’t need to have these superstitions. Let’s get over these. Let’s have confidence that I can play regardless.”
I still do have a thing with my visors so I have four different colors of visors. If we lose in one, it’s out. I’m not wearing that one again for that tournament that weekend. Each tournament, it resets so I can try the red visor again. Same thing with colored bottoms. If there’s a color of bottoms that are not working for the weekend, those are out, too.
When you say lifting, you’re not just straight banging iron. There are things on one leg. There’s a variety. It’s important that when we talk about resistance training that it’s also feeding into the whole body moving well, not just bench pressing, squatting, all these things. Those might be elements, squatting, snapping, and things like that.
Do you have someone that you train under? Let’s say you’re home long enough, which probably has been more challenging lately. Do you have someone that goes, “Here’s our program.” You sit down, you lay out the program, you look at the competitions, and you see when you need recovery. How does that work? When you’re on the road, how do you maintain? Because that’s not about growing. That’s about maintaining.
Our USA Volleyball strength and conditioning coach is Christian Hartford. We sit down in the offseason and we look at the whole year. I’ve gotten crap for even being in the gym, like, “April, get out of here.” I understand what my body needs, and it needs consistent work to stay healthy. We’ll program it out through the winter months, and then leading into pre-season. There’s zero volleyball volume so maybe we’ll do some heavier stuff, get a good base. Once the volume of volleyball starts to climb, we’ll work into that.
Maybe the lifting start goes down a little bit at the beginning, and then once my body gets used to it, we’ll ramp it back up. We look at the volume every day and we don’t want it to spike. It can climb steadily but we don’t want it to be 0 to 60 one day because that leads to injury also. That was new to me with Christian. I was always like, “I feel good today so I’m going to go hard.” The next day, I wouldn’t necessarily be hurt but exhausted. That’s when some tendinitis sets in and all that stuff.
Keeping an eye on the volume day-today and giving enough recovery on certain days has helped a lot. He is an expert and understands it way better than I do so I trust him on that. I said to him, “I trust you. I’m going to do your programs. You don’t ever need to push me. Just let me know if I’m pushing myself too hard.” He’ll let me know when I need to scale back because otherwise, I’m in there. I’m like, “I need to lift heavier than I did yesterday.”
I loved how we prepared for Tokyo, so push, push, push. I feel like I got strong and healthy. I almost took an uncomfortable amount of time to taper, like, “Let off the gas.” An uncomfortable amount of time for me was three weeks before we went. I felt amazing in Tokyo. I had so much energy and spring. Credit to him about programming and all that stuff.
I know that the year for a lot of athletes was hard, that extra time when the Olympics were supposed to happen, and then COVID. That worked out in your team’s favor. I know Alix was navigating certain things. There’s some beautiful perfection in the story of the two of you getting together, her upping her game, and the two of you creating this partnership and even having that extra year, where a lot of athletes are like, “I mentally was preparing for this and I have to go for twelve more months.”
You never want to say that it worked out for us because it was such a terrible time for so many people, but there were advantages. Alix and I got together in late 2017. If we had gone to the Olympics in 2020, we would have had 2.5 seasons together, which is so short. For her to be on the beach for 2.5 seasons is not a lot of time at all.
To have that extra year where she could train and she was dealing with some gnarly injuries to the point where she was afraid of, “How am I going to compete in the Olympics in 2020?” She was able to take care of all of that. It brought a lot of challenges. We had to switch coaches and that was tough. It felt like we had to start over tactically a little bit.
Jen had a prior commitment for her family and she had to move.
We have two coaches. Jen Kessy was our original coach, my partner from London, and then we have the head beach volleyball coach of USA Volleyball who’s Tyler Hildebrand. We went with Tyler two days a week and Jen three days a week. When the Olympics got postponed, they both had obligations that they had to go fulfill. Jen was more family-oriented. Tyler took a job in Nebraska as a coach and it’s a big deal. He couldn’t push it back.
We lost two coaches in COVID. We’re like, “What are we going to do?” Then this whole thing with Angie Akers, who was coaching the Netherlands for six years. She was the same as Jen, like, “I could stay for another year but it was better for my family to move back to California.” We heard about that and we jumped on that. That was fate and coincidence, so we got her.
When people pursue something, there are always hard times and challenges. Even if you know what you’re doing, even if you’ve already been successful, it’s just the way life is. Where do you emotionally find that next gear? Because a lot of times, you can get down or you can be like, “I have two medals. I don’t want to deal with this.” Where do you get that next deeper part of you to say, “We have challenges. My partner’s managing injuries we have a year-long. We’ve got to find a new coach.” Where do you go?
It’s something I’ve learned from experience. I don’t know where I get it from. If you keep your future self in mind and do what needs to be done in the present moment to give yourself the best opportunity for success in the long run, it’s super uncomfortable and it’s super draining. Go through it, do it, have the hard conversations, stick up for yourself, and don’t succumb to any kind of manipulation that’s going to be bad for you. I can’t explain it any other way than just feeling super stressful and uncomfortable. We had the conversation with Jen that we were going to go with someone else. She brought up the idea of coaching from Maine and we were like, “I don’t think that’s good for us.”
It’s tough, but it benefits you in the long run. Even when we were going through all of that, Alix and I kept reevaluating, “How is this terrible, unfortunate situation going to work for us in the long run?” We’re keeping that in the forefront of our minds like, “This sucks, but we could be better for it. This could be what needs to happen. Who knows? We have no control over it happening so we might as well view it that way anyways.” Angie showed up and it worked out great.
I’m a huge advocate for doing the hard thing. The harder it is to get through it, the better off you’re going to be on the other side. The easier your path around the challenge, the less you’re going to benefit in the long run. For me, it’s ripping off the band-aid. Just do it. Have that tough conversation.
You are an example of that. When I talked to Angie, she said, “Show up for practice no matter how you’re feeling because some days you get to practice, you’re more tired. Some days, maybe something’s happening,” whatever it is. Nobody goes and it’s all sunshine every time. She said, “Your ability to show up and do it, at this certain specific level, every day. Also, to know what’s good and right for yourself.” I thought that was interesting that she said that one of the many things that she learned from you was that you are in touch with what is good for you and what works for you.
That’s a nice way of saying I’m stubborn.
No, I don’t think so and it wasn’t couched that way. I’m not going to dance around it. A lot of times, as a female, if you are a certain way, people go, “They’re so tough.” To be honest, the communication was you as a person and as an athlete was that you’ll first show up yourself. It’s not like you’re saying, “Everybody else, adjust around me because I know it’s good and right for me, and I’m going to train.” You’re showing up and you’re setting the example. Whether you’re in a bad mood or not, that’s not anyone else’s thing. You’re there to work and work hard. Also, your ability to understand your training.
This is important for a person. Things are hard but then when things don’t feel good, that’s different. Let’s say in the gym, training, knowing like, “I appreciate that move. I don’t think that move is going to be good for me. I know that there’s a lot of people that have gotten huge success with that move or that coach or that way of practice, but something about that is not going to be good for me.” That’s different than it’s hard.
Now that I understand what you’re saying, I think I do that well. That is a huge reason why I’ve been healthy for so long. I know the difference. I know how hard I can push myself. When it gets to the zone of like, “This is not good for me,” in the gym and on the court, I’m vocal about saying when that point is because I know that it’s only going to work out better for our team. It’s not me saying, “I’m quitting.” It’s like, “I don’t want to end up injured. I’m going to take my ego out of this.”
[bctt tweet=”What helps success as an athlete is work ethic.”]
As an elite athlete, nobody wants to say, “I can’t keep going.” You’ll feel like a wuss. The harder thing to do is to say, “This is my stopping point. I got it.” I love that about beach volleyball because we do run the show and we can say that. It scares me thinking back about some of these moments in college volleyball where like, “I wish I could have said that,” or I did say stuff like that and it was like, “No, just keep going,” or you go the trainer and they don’t feel like they can stand up to the coach. They’ll say, “She’s fine,” and you keep going and then you end up with an injury. It’s important to be self-aware of paying attention to where your limits are and standing up for yourself when you reach those limits. To Angie’s credit, she was open to that.
We talked about that and that’s a good point because as a younger athlete, I always had a chip on my shoulder because I was unsure about my abilities and I wanted to prove to everybody that I work harder and do all this stuff. A lot of times, I got myself into situations where I was like, “This isn’t good for me.” I wasn’t afraid of hard work. That’s true, for example, in nutrition. There might be people who are like, “That might work well for a lot of people. Something about that doesn’t work for me.” It could be in a friendship or a relationship, whatever it is. It’s so important for people to learn like, “Who am I and what works for me?”
Think critically about the information you’re being given and apply it to yourself. Don’t say, “Because it works for her, it’s going to work for me.” Pay attention to how different things affect you mentally and physically.
That’s a level of being in touch with where you’re at. Let’s move to nutrition. We talked about college because my favorite is you’re a freshman, and then you have these places that they feed you and you can eat as much as you want. You go down in there, it’s open at certain hours, and you eat as much as you possibly can. Are you strict? Do you have a way that you eat the night before a game or the week? Are there certain things that agree with you as far as nutrition?
Going back to college, I got to the athlete dining facility not knowing any better like, “Everything they’re serving is healthy.” I would have two plates of food every night my freshman year because I’m like, “This is what they’re serving me so it’s healthy.” That’s where I started. I gained about twenty pounds my freshman year and then started to figure things out along the way. I don’t know if I have a slow metabolism, but I do feel like I put on weight easily so I have to be on my nutrition. I try not to be extreme. I’ve gone through those periods before London where I was doing the juice cleanses. I’m trying to do three-day juice cleanses, which isn’t even that much and it’s miserable.
In practice and stuff, and train? Did you have a time where it was more of a quiet time?
It was more over the weekend but still, that’s when my body’s trying to recover. I would never tell anybody to do a juice cleanse at this point, especially if you’re training hard. I’ve gone from those kinds of days where I was experimenting. I went vegan for a little while. I’m trying to figure out what works for me in the long run.
This past quad, the timing of the day what I’m eating and moderation, I do try to keep out processed carbohydrates and sugars when I’m on it, leading up to the Olympics and stuff. I did intermittent fasting for a while when that became a thing and that doesn’t work for me either. No fasting for me. I try to focus on things that come from the earth, number one, and then if I need a little bit extra carbohydrate, I’ll have some wheat bread in the morning. If my body is craving something, I’ll have it, but it’s more like cutting out the simple carbs and focusing on getting enough fruit and vegetable throughout the day.
If you’re playing in the morning, do you eat before that match?
Yes, always. I’ve never had a problem eating before competing. In high school, I’d go from basketball practice to club volleyball practice. I practice five hours straight. From basketball practice, I’d go get a huge burrito from my favorite Mexican place, eat it in the car, and then get out of the car and start practicing volleyball. I’ve never had an issue with that. I have to eat. Otherwise, I feel jittery in the morning. My blood sugar will go low. I can feel it on the court. I don’t have enough emotional energy. It almost is like, “I don’t care what happens now.”
Do you have anything that you drink or eat even during the match? If it’s hot or the Olympics is long, what are you doing there?
I always have a Gatorade with me when I play, and then they have the Gatorlytes which are their electrolytes. I’ll be drinking those at least 2 to 3 times a day. I’ve done the sweat testing. I know how much salt I lose and how much I’m supposed to have to replenish that. Hydration is definitely a huge thing, especially in Tokyo. I didn’t realize at the beginning of my career how important hydration is with recovery. It was like, “I can compete and sweat. I’m not dehydrated.” Getting that on the back end and making sure you’re hydrated before you go to bed, you feel so much better the next morning. That’s been a huge focus also.
It’s funny, if you talk to anyone who knows what they’re talking about, we don’t equate flexibility with hydration. There’s a great guy named Matt Furie. He was wrestling far out. He’ll talk about people coming. This is a guy who can lay on his face the other way, his neck flexibility. He’s a huge guy. He’s serious. He’s like, “Don’t even come see me unless you’re hydrated because you’re 30% more flexible.” I wish I had learned earlier the correlation between injury and dehydration. They’re best friends.
I feel like that’s helped me a lot. We never drank anything growing up beside water. I didn’t like soda. I didn’t like the carbonation so I didn’t drink it. My dad pushed water all the time. Not even ice water. He’d be like, “You have to drink room temperature water because you can drink more of it.” I still to this day drink room temperature water and I have to have a water bottle on me all the time. It’s a comfort thing. I feel like I’ve always hydrated well. At least I used to be flexible. Not sure where I am now.
You’ll get to it. In your first Olympics, you won a silver then you won a bronze. I know that the bronze was hard-fought. You guys dug in deep and got that. It’s always interesting. People don’t realize sometimes you can win what’s considered third place but, in a way, it was almost a bigger victory for different reasons because it was a lot of work. Now you win the gold. I’m always fascinated when people have a vision or dream in their mind, and then they reach it the next day.
Is it like, “That worked. I thought I could do that. I tried to put it all together and it worked.” You also have a life. You have a relationship and you have your family. I sometimes see it harder for people who have not developed other parts of their life, and then they’re done and they’re like, “What do you mean?” People don’t realize when you set a goal as impossible but yet achievable like, “It happened. Here’s your gold medal. I’m going to put it around your neck,” how do you feel the next day?
The feeling I had was the same thing. I can believe it happened because we were so diligent, capable, and worked so hard for it, but at the same time, I can’t believe it worked out so perfectly and that we were able to do it. There’s this disbelief, a shock almost. For me, I feel like, “I can’t believe I did it.” I have tried it in London. We were so close. I got the silver. I went into Rio with complete blinders on thinking we were getting the gold. The only mission is gold, nothing else.
Especially with Kerri.
We were fully capable. We had a successful run up until the Olympics. It’s not like we won every tournament or anything, but we’re capable of winning. It was almost like I was too attached to the outcome and going for it too hard and was stressed out the whole time.
Nobody understands if you’re the next partner to somebody who has had another partner and they had a historical run. For you to even step into that and not melt in general says a lot because that’s no joke.
It was great for me. Lots of growth and I learned so much. It was getting to play with the best person I could possibly play with. It was me jumping in and figuring it out as we went. I loved our run and I am so proud of our bronze medal. The fact that it didn’t happen for me at that point, and then going into the next quad not knowing who I was going to play with, then getting a partner who had never played beach volleyball before, and then creating all of this stuff from scratch. Then you get to that point, you’re standing on the podium with a gold medal, it’s like, “I can’t believe it happened.”
I still get chills thinking about it like, “My third attempt at 39 after a year of COVID, this is when I’m going to win the gold medal?” I’ll take it. Amazing. I feel like I’ve worked hard enough to deserve it. There was a lot of disbelief, gratitude, and relief, honestly. I get to a certain point in my career, I’ve achieved something, and it’s like, “What’s the next thing? What else can I achieve? What can I push myself to see if I can do?”
For me, it’s been the gold medal. That’s what I need to check off. I’ve won world championships. I’ve made the Olympics. I’ve won national championships. The only thing left for me to do in my volleyball career is win this gold medal. I didn’t know what I was going to do afterwards, if I was going to keep playing. This is possibly my last chance, so the relief of having done it, and a lot of pride. There are so many people that helped us do it. Our team is huge and everybody invested so much. My family has supported me for so long. It was feeling like you did it for everybody. The pride that goes along with that was overwhelming.
I have other friends that are athletes and some have an easier time transitioning out of a sport than others. For some, it’s a tough go. You seem like a person, even though you’re not retiring, who could transition out of volleyball easily. It’s an interesting thing because you’re not retiring, you’ve just come off of winning a gold, you’re healthy, there are no limits, but you also seem like somebody who could do something else.
As much as I love to win and push myself and love beach volleyball, I’m in it for the journey as much as for the outcomes. Sometimes I’ll find myself too attached, too intense, and holding on too tight, and I’m like, “April, you got to take a step back. You got to let go a little bit.” Even going into the Olympics, things started to feel so stressful. I was like, “April, if you win the gold, you win the gold. You can’t go in expecting it or saying, ‘My whole life is dependent on this moment.'”
For my whole career, I’ve tried to have like, “What else can I appreciate about this journey?” Traveling and going out and seeing different things. All of it has meant a lot. It hasn’t been about the outcome. I always try to keep the main thing, the main thing, which is playing, competing and seeing how good I can be. I’m not attached to any kind of success. I like to win, but attention or me as a volleyball player in any way.
I do feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot for this journey with my friends and my family. Whenever I have a chance to spend time with them, it’s fulfilling and I want it to be a big part of my life. I feel like I’ve had that mental balance my whole career. That’s what is going to make it easier to transition out of it. I like to be pushed.
You like that environment.
To see what else I can do is exciting for me. I would love to get in a different realm, whether it’s in sports or something else, and see if I can become successful in that way.
I was listening to you and Alix talk about something that I wanted to hear from you. You both talk about the first tournament you played together. You are not having great practices. You only had maybe 6, 7 weeks or something to prepare. You have a green and experienced new partner who is tall, big.
For people who don’t understand, when you transition to beach volleyball, that doesn’t always work in your favor. It makes it hard because a lot of times, they shoved you at the net, they shoved you in the corner. You weren’t passing balls necessarily or they block and hit and maybe pick up a short ball and that’s it.
Here you have this new partner who’s intense, willing, and wants to win. In your first international tournament with the best teams in the world, you win. In the next tournament, you’re dead last. The first tournament is like, “Hey.” You guys were talking about when it doesn’t work or it’s not going your way that you both get intense. Alix said you almost freak out but not hysterical, but like, “What’s up? What’s wrong? Let’s undo it. Let’s redo it.”
When I was listening to that, I’m like, “It’s so exhausting. Who has the energy to disassemble and reassemble something that works, but now it’s not working so we’ll look at it?” Maybe that’s where the two of you meet. That is where the two of you are so eye-to-eye because she comes across different. It’s sweet. It’s all this very thing. When I heard that, I was like, “I’m getting this now.” It’s like, “We’re working hard. We take this seriously. We’re killing ourselves in practice. We’re here to win. What the hell’s going on?”
That is exactly how we’re similar. She even more so than me has this level that she expects from herself. It’s more for herself. It’s not even us as a team. When she doesn’t perform how she wants to perform, she digs in and figures out why she’s not performing the way she wants to perform. I’m the same way. When it happens together, we lose. We know we’re better than that.
We’re extremely motivated. We do a little bit of a freakout. After we’ve won several tournaments and we lose, it’s like, “Is this even going to work?” It is going to work. We have these major doubt moments and it motivates us to figure out how can we do things better and how can we not have this happen again.
I brought it up because she said you’ve had coaches who were like, “This is a game. You should have a little more fun.” Or in warm ups, they’re like, “You guys are so intense.” It struck me because I thought it was interesting that it’s the way it works for you, it doesn’t eat you guys alive, and it isn’t a negative.
It sounds exhausting to you and to everyone else. It’s how we operate it and it’s what makes us feel good. She’s also someone who has a good amount of balance in her life. We have a similar mentality so we know that after the tournament, this is not going to stick with us. We’d figure it out. We’re in it to win it. Whatever that takes, we’re going to do it but once the last ball has fallen, we can walk away from it and be okay. That’s part of giving it everything that we have, being competitive, and believing. Part of believing in ourselves is doing all of that. Even going into the Olympics, our coaches were afraid that the thing that was going to ruin us was our perfectionist tendencies and that panic button that we’d pushed if things weren’t going well.
[bctt tweet=”Put yourself in the most uncomfortable position you can and just learn.”]
If we’re in a match and things aren’t going well, which honestly most of the time when we’re in a match and you’re out there figuring things out, we drop it and we become pure competitors. What do we need to do to win? What’s it going to take? It doesn’t matter what we’ve been taught. If that’s not working, we’re going to do something else. We’re good at problem-solving. It’s another way we took ownership of our team and what we were doing on the court, and made those decisions together and at the moment because we were invested in everything as a team and breaking it down when it didn’t work. It allowed us to control the beast of our team better in the long run.
Competing is hard. People don’t realize that there are nine different stories that happen in one match. It’s up, it’s down. Every emotion in one match and now you’re going to play for weeks and weeks.
Alix is the best. Things aren’t going our way and then one thing will click, she’ll get five aces in a row or five blocks in a row, and it’s like, “We finally figured it out. You never give up, keep working, and try to figure out what’s going to get you the victory.”
Where did you get this faith? Because it’s one thing for you to govern yourself but here you have a new partner who’s trying to learn and figure it out. Where did you get that faith that you’re like, “This is the partner I’m picking. Maybe not the most obvious pick.” She’s had a lot of success and she’s big so there are some things that make sense.
A lot of people who have success indoors try to transition to the beach and it doesn’t work.
It’s a beast.
You don’t know.
You weren’t going to be in charge of her and you could say, “I have confidence in me that I will work this out.” You went with your instinct on this with her. Where did you go inside? I liken it to parenting because when you’re parenting, you have this person that you’re like, “I know their essence and they’re going to be fine,” but inside you’re like, “I hope they make the right choice when they do it.” It’s this process of giving space to allow them to figure it out. How did you do that because you’re also on the clock?
The number one thing that made me pick her is how she spoke about why she was transitioning to beach volleyball. It was one of her number one goals in her entire life, unlike me who set my goal once I got to a certain step. Out of the womb, she was like, “I want to go to the Olympics.” That was a big driver for her and she had suffered some setbacks indoors. That wasn’t going to happen for her indoor and that’s why she made the jump to the beach.
You could feel the intensity with which she wanted this to happen. I’m like, “If you have that much fire behind a goal, I have no doubts about how you’re going to make it happen.” We sat down and had coffee and everything she said was in line with my mentality. I could tell she was willing to do whatever it took to make this goal happen.
For the first time, I’m not just trying to teach somebody who had never played beach before but I was the more veteran player in any partnership. I’m trying to figure out how to be in that role and help her learn as fast as possible. We had to communicate a lot. It was tough for her sometimes at the beginning especially to speak up because she had me and Jen trying to tell her what to do all the time. I never want to be overbearing. I was the underclassman, where all the seniors were mean to her and all this stuff. I’m trying to make Alix as comfortable as possible while sharing what I could. The way I would do it is like, “If I were you, I would do it this way.”
That can eventually sound naggy. At certain points, she would say, “I got this. Thank you, but I’m going to figure this one out on my own.” I got the message and I wasn’t offended by it. I’m like, “If that’s how you want to do it. I’m just trying to share my knowledge, but you do you because I know you want it as bad as I do.” If I thought somebody was slacking or not motivated, that would be different. I knew she wasn’t doing that.
I thought this was interesting and worth bringing up that you went and saw Nicole Davis and laid it all out. Maybe explain because there was something that I thought, “That’s smart.”
I haven’t always used sports psychologists, but you get to a certain point and you’re like, “What else can give me an advantage at this point in my career?” The mental part of the game is big and how can we improve upon our current mental game. Bringing a sports psychologist was a no-brainer at this point. We were on a timeline. To help us learn each other better, what motivates us, and where we are on this axis of what language we speak makes things go faster, and understand each other better. We spent two hours this first session listing our values and coming up with a team mission statement. It was helpful and we had this great cornerstone to build on after that session with her, and then we check in every couple of months or something.
To clean house and stuff?
Yeah, and have her facilitate things we didn’t think about and things we should talk about.
It’s funny, we talk about work or personal relationships or pursuit of anything, how important communication is because you can avoid many hassles if you can communicate. I’m curious if it bled over in reverse into your personal life. We learn in different ways but maybe through sport, you learned that skill back into your everyday life where you thought, “This is an opportunity I could communicate.”
That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about it, but it has happened in parallel. I try to be more open with how I’m feeling about things personally and not let things fester and get it out in the open, which is also what I was trying to do with Alix. We were trying to do it with each other. It goes along with everything else. It’s a parallel between sports, life, learning, and trying to not get emotionally charged that it’s not productive. I’m better at that on the volleyball court than in my personal life. I’m trying to do that more in my personal life and take my ego out of things. How we solve this problem without getting defensive or offended is a huge key to happiness in general.
If you were to think about yourself as a person, what traits feed into your being a champion? What traits do you see maybe as an athlete that works well as an athlete, but makes it tricky in your personal life?
What’s helped me be successful as an athlete is my work ethic and my competitiveness on the court. I tried to separate that over the years. I want to be competitive on the court. I don’t want to be competitive off the court. People give me so much crap when we’re playing board games or cards and saying I’m so competitive and I’m not. I just want to have a good time. They think I’m competitive so they get competitive. They’re projecting and then if I win somehow, they’re like, “You’re so competitive.” I’m like, “I’m just having a good time.”
“I’m having fun because I’m winning.”
I am competitive on the court. Having a level of detachment has helped me a lot. Win or lose after a tournament, I’m moving on. I’m not holding on to it. It’s not life or death for me. That’s honestly part of losing my mom early in my life, too. I can say, “This is a game and we’re having a good time.” We get to put it all out there but at the end of the day, this is not the number one thing that matters. That level of detachment gives me some freedom on the court and some freedom to go for it without worrying about and being fearful of the outcome.
The thing that hinders me personally is my intensity. It’s hard to turn it off. Also, holding everybody to this standard of excellence that I’m holding myself to. Even though I don’t hold myself to it off the court as much as I do on the court, it’s hard to differentiate, like, “You need to push yourself harder. Why aren’t you trying harder?” I have to mitigate that a little bit.
It’s such a dance. We all have things that serve us that we’re trying to always manage simultaneously. I’ve thought a lot about it personally. I didn’t always live with my parents. When I was 5, my father passed away in a plane crash. If I look back, I’ve lived enough years that I can see weirdly even though it’s sad and it’s different than losing a parent at 19. I also see in all the ways that I am more because of it. It made me more determined and independent. It made me even more scared, which also propelled me.
You try to again mitigate and find new reasons instead of like, “I’m surviving.” I was thinking about that with your mom. I know she was an intricate part. It was funny because I was talking about it with my girls. If they have a practice of any kind, they beat it, “I don’t want you to come.” You’re like, “My mom will come to my practice and my games.” I’m curious if you had all gone through a phase when you were a younger teenager where you were a regular teenager with your mom or was it always cool with her?
I don’t think I ever experienced teenage angst. My sister did that for me.
You’re too busy the entire time playing sports.
All I did was play sports all day every day. I had a couple of friends but I was chill.
You mentioned the perspective. That’s what Angie talked about. She said your level of perspective is stunning. Looking at what you’ve experienced with your mom, there was also a superpower that it gave you or maybe many.
The perspective is the biggest thing. It also sparked me to try and make each day as meaningful as possible. Whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to do to my best ability and everything’s going to be mindful. I’m not going to live any part of my life on autopilot because you never know how short it’s going to be or what’s going to happen, so I’m making stuff matter. Whatever I’m going to do is going to be something I’m passionate about, my heart’s in it, and I’m going to love it.
That’s part of why I quit indoor volleyball. I was like, “I could keep making money but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like it so I’m going to quit.” I feel like I would have done that with anything or I’ll do that with anything. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve invested, if I am not feeling it or the universe is not saying this is the way and I hate it, I have no problem being like, “Life’s too short. I’ve got to go in a different direction.”
It’s interesting when you have that because there is a perceived harshness with that. It’s honest and most of us are afraid to have that level of like, “No, I’m sorry, this is what I need to be doing.” I know you’re close to your sister, but do your friends or does anyone ever like, “April, tone that down.” Are you at a place where you are probably only surrounded by people who are like, “I get it. That’s you.”
I have a small tight group of friends who understand me but at the same time, they’re still a little bit like, “April, chill out a little bit.” We go on vacation with this group of friends every now and again. I’m like, “I have to work out.” I’ll get up early and I’ll go and work out at the cost of making it on the mountain at the same time as everybody to go snowboarding or to the beach. I’m like, “I got to stay on it.” They give me a lot of crap for being intense. That’s part of giving it my all and being in it. I can still go to the beach all day. I’m going to go to the gym and make sure that I don’t get home and I’m totally out of shape. Everyone around me rolls their eyes at me but they understand me.
You can’t take it on and not have people around you that get it. The other thing Angie talked about was that you don’t seem interested in controlling the outcome and you’re good about focusing on controlling the controllables? Have you moved more into that as you’ve had more experience? Because that’s hard to do.
It’s been a realization and I still struggle with it because I am a control freak and I want to control everything. That’s another thing I’m trying to get better in my personal life, not trying to control everybody and everything around me. Especially on the volleyball court, it’s frustrating to try and control other things that I have no control about. To be annoyed by the wind if it’s super windy and we can’t play the way that we want, it is frustrating, but you get in it and you’re like, “This is what I have to deal with. All I can do is the best I can do right at this moment.” That’s another thing, always trying to be present in what you’re doing and not worrying about what’s going to happen next. Focusing on what I can control has been a huge asset. Getting through adversity is a little bit easier when you do that also.
Were you the kind of girl who never had any drama with your friends?
You seem like a person that’s like, “What are you guys talking about? I’m out of here.”
I’m so go-with-the-flow.
It’s like, “Did you hear that she was dating?”
I hate gossip. “What are you guys doing? I’m out of here.”
What do you think it’s like to date you now? I could break it down for you and tell you that my husband is like, “Look at her over there.” What do you think it takes, the personality, to be with you? What traits will work?
You have to be open-minded. You have to be able to see my intensity and understand that it comes off harsher than it is. Underneath it all, I go with the flow, pretty chill, and you can call me on my BS like, “April, you’re being way too intense right now. This doesn’t matter. It’ll be fine if we don’t get this done today,” and not get super upset with me for the way I go about things and talk some reasoning into me. My boyfriend is good at communicating, so that’s helpful. It’s not going to hold anything back. He’s social and light-hearted and offsets that seriousness that I have. He will lighten the mood and get me out of my volleyball bubble and in doing everything 100%. It’s like, “Let’s go relax for a little while.”
First of all, congratulations. As an outside person and athlete, you’re fun to watch. I was saying to Angie that you have a little bit of what Misty May has. For different reasons, she grew up on the beach, so natural, and it’s fluid and good, but it’s like, “Here we are. Let’s go.” It’s fun to watch but it was also a steady freight train coming in. You could feel where you were lowering the hammer and you’re like, “Here she’s coming.”
I appreciate it. I’m not necessarily excited that you’re still playing volleyball. I’m interested to know what’s going to be your motivation next. I know it’s to see what else you can do but it’ll be interesting when the season starts. I’m going to cold call you like, “You’re in Russia. What have you eaten? How’s it going?”
It’s about exploring the limits of human potential and being an older athlete and seeing what else I can accomplish.
As athletes get older, it’s important also to remember how young they are. I met somebody who was the most decorated person in skiing and I was like, “I was trying to remember you’re a young man.” He aged out of his sport because that’s downhill. You’re blown up. It’s brutal. That’s the other great thing about beach volleyball. It’s hard to move in the sand but it is forgiving in a whole other way.
I feel like society has this vision of how old an athlete should be. I feel this obligation to recognize my biological age even though I feel much younger. That’s a good point. I need to go with it.
I’ve been around all kinds of athletes. For example, you’re on TV and you hit the ball, they’ll be like, “Can you believe it? At this age, April Ross is performing amazingly.” They hear, “Thirty-something years old.” It’s like, “Shut up.” I want to invite you to keep doing what you’re doing, which is to trust yourself. Don’t listen to that because people are like, “It’s amazing.” If it excites you and it’s still fun for you, then don’t get into all of that.
That’s good advice. I’m going to take that.
I appreciate your time. Maybe remind people of all the places where they can find you.
We all have something where everyone thinks that we’re a certain way but we’re quite different. Do you have something that you think, “People misread me on that.”
It happens both ways. I view myself as yin and yang and I do have this chill side, easygoing side but then I also have this ruthless and intense side. I can switch back and forth easily. If you’ve encountered me on the yin side being ruthless, I can still be that chill person. Do not be scared of me when I’m in that mode. Also if I’m super chill, don’t assume that I’m going to do whatever you’re asking me to do or go complete with the flow if I don’t feel like that’s the way I should go. I can switch back and forth a good amount. Maybe that’s the Gemini in me.
There’s some richness to a story that you couldn’t have possibly known was going to go with all these turns.
I can’t believe it worked out the way it worked out. It’s crazy.
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- April Ross
- Alix Klineman
- Natalie Williams
- Holly McPeak
- Christian Hartford
- Jen Kessy
- Tyler Hildebrand
- Nicole Davis
About April Ross
Since her debut on the pro beach volleyball scene in 2006, April Ross has cemented her role as a champion and one of the most universally loved players on tour. Lauded for her powerful serve, energy and competitive drive, April’s easygoing personality off the sand makes her one of today’s most authentic, engaging and accessible athletes.
California born and raised, April began her volleyball career indoors where she was a three-sport athlete at Newport Harbor High and Gatorade National Player of the Year. April then led USC to back-to-back NCAA Championships and was named a Honda Award Winner and Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2003. After time spent playing professionally indoors overseas, April swapped her sneakers for sand and was the AVP Rookie of the Year in 2006 and FIVB Rookie of the Year in 2007.