Catching Up With Olympic Hopeful, April Ross
Beach volleyball Olympic hopeful April Ross spends most of her time on Corona Del Mar State Beach (Calif.) training for the upcoming 2012 Olympic games. When she isn’t perfecting her volleyball skills, she loves to be outdoors with her friends and family (and maybe a bear or two)…
Camping Life: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to Camping Life magazine. We know how busy you are and we’re so excited to be able to interview you.
April Ross: No, I’m excited to be in the magazine, I love camping!
CL: Awesome! What do you like to do outdoors when you have some down time?
AR: I love to do anything outdoors, just around where I live [my husband and I] will ride our bikes a lot – if we’re going out to eat, we’ll ride our bikes [there] or go down to the beach and do a lot of standup paddle boarding with friends. I think it’s a cool thing for people who visit us on the coast to do, you just feel so close and at one with the ocean. You’re out there and it’s peaceful, you just can’t experience that elsewhere. I love that. And hiking also, our friend just visited from Australia and we took him on the Hollywood sign hike. Or we play volleyball it’s just amazing to be outside all the time.
CL: Are there any parks around where you live that you particularly enjoy, parks you frequent or do you go all over?
AR: Just kind of all over. We’re so spoiled, I feel like I am treated to such amazing views and an experience every day. We go down to Corona del Mar State Beach to practice and it’s honestly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. Obviously I’ve seen a gazillion beaches but [Corona del Mar] is just gorgeous.
CL: Where is that located in California?
AR: It’s about an hour south of Los Angeles, in Orange County.
CL: What are some of your favorite places to go camping?
AR: I don’t have a ton of time to go camping anymore, but growing up we would go to Yosemite every summer and go camping. It was always on my bucket list to hike Half Dome. When I was little it seemed so challenging, almost impossible. It was in college when I went and finally decided to do it. I made it all the way to the top. That’s one of my favorite memories from camping. We [have] also camped in Colorado and Montana. Always on the West Coast, I’ve never been camping anywhere on the East Coast or Midwest or anything.
CL: Hiking Half Dome is quite an accomplishment! Congrats. So, when was your last camping trip?
AR: We didn’t make the Olympics in 2008, so the people I normally go camping with scheduled their camping trip during the Olympics. We were hoping we would make it [to the Olympics] but we didn’t so I went home, packed up all my stuff and went camping with them.
CL: Where did that camping trip take place?
AR: Yosemite, again. It’s the same family we always go with every summer.
CL: What has been your most memorable experience?
AR: I was in about fourth or fifth grade, [my family and I] went camping in Mammoth where there was a family of bears that walked into our campsite. Everyone was freaking out but it was so cool to see the bears close up. They were black bears – the cubs were coming through our campsite. There was a mom keeping her distance — you don’t want to get too close to the cubs or the mom’s going to freak out. The cubs were just deceiving because they’re so cute and I’m this little kid who wanted to go over and pet them but our parents just held us back. I think that must trigger the memories for me. I can remember riding bikes everywhere in the rain and having campfires. That’s a pretty vivid memory; it’s a good one for me.
CL: That sounds so scary to see a bunch of bears walking into your campsite!
AR: Oh my gosh, that always happens to us. The last time we went to Yosemite, there was this huge bear, probably the biggest one I’ve ever seen, [enter our campsite] in the middle of the night. We didn’t lock our bear locker or something, and it was just ripping open all our food. When it’s a little bear I’m not usually that scared but it was huge and I was freaking out – I thought it was going to eat us!
CL: Yes, you certainly can’t mess around with bears.
AR: No, I mean it’s cool in hindsight but when it’s happening it’s kind of scary.
CL: Absolutely. Were you just with your family or another family as well?
AR: It was my family and then another family who had like four kids and we grew up with them and we would go with them every summer and we still keep in touch. If we were to go again, they still go every year, I just can’t go with them.
CL: When you were a kid and as well as now, how do you camp – tents? Trailers? RVs?
AR: A couple of times [we’ve camped] in maybe RVs or trailers or something, but the majority of the time it’s in a tent. I just don’t think I get the full camping experience unless I’m as outdoors as possible. It’s hard for me to sleep on a cot just outside without a tent – that still kind of scares me a little. But we usually camp in tents.
CL: What are some must-have items for your camping trips?
AR: Must have. Hmm, it’s funny, I think about food so much but I have tons of just little snacks. Like, Goldfish and trail mix. I don’t eat meals; I just have many little snacks – beef jerky – anything like that. I have to have a ton of food [when I’m camping]. Also, my orthodics because we’re just so active all the time. There’s chairs that we recently started bringing – they’re lawn chairs that are lounge chairs you can recline almost all the way in – to the campsite. They’re amazing when you’re hanging out at the campsite and reading or whatever. And I know this is food again but I have to have s’mores. That’s probably my favorite thing to do is sitting around the campfire and talking, playing games and eating s’mores. I also have to have my water bottle and lotion. Whenever I go camping if I don’t have a ton of lotion it creeps me out because it gets so dry, so that’s definitely a must have. And my bathing suit, too. I don’t usually bring any type of gear. I have my backpack, my water bottle, my snacks and my workout stuff - my Lululemon pants and stuff when I go hiking with my running shoes. I don’t go rocking climbing or anything like that so [I don't pack any] of that gear.
CL: Since you’re outside all the time anyway and always wearing sunscreen, do you have any brands you love to wear or anything you recommend that works the best for your skin?
AR: I’m always changing brands. Usually I have started going away from the normal sunscreen. I like to use chemical-free sunscreen like the organic stuff. You know Trader Joe’s? I like their sunscreen. I use their moisturizer with sunscreen in it. And they have a bigger SPF 30 that I like to use a lot. Maybe it’s not as effective [in preventing skin damage] but I just feel like it outweighs all the chemicals that are soaking into your skin with the normal sunscreen.
CL: Do you have any type of running shoe or brand you prefer?
AR: Um, no, I don’t. I mean, I really like Mizunos. It changes but right now, it’s Mizunos and they work well for my feet. Everyone is different but like if I were to go hiking right now I’d wear my Mizunos.
CL: Do you ever go camping with your teammate Jen Kessy? What do you do together outside of training, if anything?
AR: We don’t [go camping together]. I mean, we spend so much time together – I spend more time with her than I do with my husband, but she loves camping, too. I think we would have the best time if we went somewhere together tough. She, like me, doesn’t have a ton of time to go anymore but she used to do it a lot. Maybe in the future we can celebrate going to the Olympics by camping afterwards.
CL: Definitely! You’re probably not thinking too far ahead past the upcoming Olympics, but do you have any trips planned this fall?
AR: No trips planned but I really want to go to Big Sur. I’ve never gone camping there. I want to do some camping on the beach. I’ve never really done that and I think that would be really fun and peaceful and I don’t know. Maybe I’ll start planning that because it sounds so great to me.
CL: Camping on the beach is much different than camping in the woods or near a trail.
AR: Right. Yeah, and just being able to go into the ocean every day would be fun and falling asleep to the ocean would be even more amazing.
CL: Speaking of camping again, what’s your favorite camp meal?
AR: I love spaghetti with meat sauce; it adds a little bit more. I try to keep food simple but, you know, as hearty as possible. [Spaghetti is] so easy if you have a little burner. When I think of camping dinners, I think of spaghetti and just eating the leftovers cold the next day.
CL: I’d love to talk a little about the upcoming Olympics and your training. What is your daily life like right now?
AR: [Jen and I] do a ton of stuff. We train five days a week and then we do circuit weight lifting three times a week. We supplement that with cardio on the other days — three days a week. We take Sunday completely off. We just started doing this kind of cutting-edge brain training stuff. It’s really hard to explain but they tested our brain and everything, saw our weaknesses and strengths, so now we’re working on our weaknesses to get them stronger. So, that takes up a good chunk of time. And then physical therapy, too, takes up a lot of time. But we’re just full steam ahead right now, willing to do anything and everything to get us as prepared as possible for the Olympics. It’s such a dream for both of us.
CL: Oh, absolutely. Is this the first time you and Jen are going to the Olympics together?
AR: Yes, it’s the first time for both of us. Like I said, we narrowly missed the last one.
CL: What did you do when you found out that you were able to go to the Olympics this year or are you still waiting for that moment?
AR: Well, it’s hard to explain. It’s not 100-percent sure; it’s a two-year qualifying process that ends on June 21st. We’re in a really good position. It’s not mathematically impossible for the other team to catch us, but weird things would have to happen. It’s not 100-percent sure, it’s not like we found out at a certain date or something; it’s [calculated] throughout the year. Our finishes really bumped us up.
CL: That’s really exciting! It must feel really good to have all of your hard work pay off.
AR: Yeah, I mean it’s the ultimate in sports so it’s hard to think of it as a reality yet.
CL: Absolutely. How does your family feel about all of the training you do and about the possibility of going to the Olympics? How are they handling everything?
AR: Super supportive. It’s been kind of stressful because they have to make arrangements and they can’t wait until we find out [if we’re in the Olympics], they have to bank on us going. Luckily, we’re in a good position and they’ve taken care of everything on their own so that’s nice and they’re super supportive. They know not to ask a ton of questions or put pressure on us or anything like that so they’ve been really good. It’s the best-case scenario.
CL: And your husband, fellow beach volleyball player, Brad Keenan, was he ever in the Olympics or is he just professional?
AR: No, he’s just professional. He’ll be going for Rio, the next Olympic games.
CL: I bet he’s really excited for you, too.
AR: Yeah, for sure. He’s definitely my rock and if things get too stressful or anything like that, he knows how to calm me down.
CL: And since he’s an athlete as well, and he’s probably faced a lot of the same stress and pressure that you do, it’s probably a lot better to be married to someone who can relate the way he does and help you out.
AR: Oh, 100 percent. He understands everything I’m going through. If he didn’t, it would be so much harder. And, he can be kind of a buffer for our family. He knows what I’m thinking so he can take a lot of that pressure off of me and give me really good advice. I just can’t imagine how much harder it would be without him and his knowledge of everything.
CL: How does it feel for you as a person to represent your country, your family and your sport?
AR: It’s really exciting. It’s the highest honor to be asked to represent your country. And obviously people expect you to be the best of the best and you want to do that justice so it’s, you know, I don’t want to call it pressure but it’s almost like an adrenaline rush. It’s not just you playing for you; it’s you playing for your country and for the pride of your country. I can’t think of anything better than that. Sometimes I feel like there’s more riding on it for my family. They’re so passionate about it and like last time when we didn’t make [the 2008 Olympics], I felt almost worse for my family than I did for myself. They’re so invested in it that I want to do it for them, too. There’s so much involved in it.
CL: Yeah, and it’s really easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself, especially when you work has hard as you obviously do, that personality type can sometimes put on more pressure than you have to.
AR: Yeah, that’s actually half the brain-training thing we’re doing right now. [Laughs.]
CL: How does it feel to know that there are young girls who are the age you probably were when you started playing volleyball looking up to you? They’re obviously going to watch the Olympics and see you playing, how does that impact you?
AR: Oh, it’s the best. I can’t advocate for girls going into sports or volleyball enough. It keeps you out of trouble, boosts your confidence and teaches you teamwork. It’s so huge and to have an impact on a young person’s life in a good way just because maybe they look up to us or you know we do a chant and we say something to them that clicks for them – honestly, that’s the best feeling. And kind of the older I get, the more I get into that and wanting to give back and teach kids and help them succeed through sports, but obviously mainly volleyball with me.
CL: Who was your role model growing up?
AR: I watched a lot of basketball growing up – Michael Jordan was the best. So, obviously I admired him and I also loved soccer growing up. Pele was my like, favorite sports star. I like that he just had this sense of calm about him but he was always the best. I’m not the best but I try and have the calm demeanor. But I liked him. And then I can’t say anyone was my role model more than my parents. I mean they were just supportive and always there for me.
For more information about April Ross, visit www.teamusa.org.