Earlier this year, we interviewed one half of Team USA'S women's volleyball team member, Kerri Walsh-Jennings. In this month's issue we sat down with Cali girl, April Ross (this duo took Bronze home) to talk about the importance of safe sun, especially as it pertains to eye health and her partnership with Xperio UV, training for Rio, dancing with Kerri, what she's up to off the court and the beauty of being strong and how important that is for women!
ATHLEISURE MAG: What is Xperio UV eyewear?
XPERIO UV: Xperio UV is a polarized lens brand that you can get it in your prescription or you can get it in non-prescription. We have a lot of cool colors that you can choose in either solid, gradient or mirror.
The lenses can go in any frames. We have mirror, plum with a silver mirror on top - there are a lot of combinations on top. There are so many colors that allow you to rock your look.
AM: How long has the brand been around?
X UV: The brand is new, but the company itself has been around for over 100 years and is headquartered in France. In terms of this brand, the good thing is that they are polarized lenses, but on top of that they have maximum UV protection as it is on the front and on the back of the lens. A lot of times, you don't think of the fact that the back of the lens has rays coming from the opposite direction which bounces into your eyes. They are also scratch resistant, which we put our sunglasses in our bags without the cases. They are also very easy to clean as well.
AM: So April, you wear the lenses.
APRIL ROSS: Yes, I wear them for protection as she said. Because of the polarization as it makes whatever I am seeing - super clear - especially when I am playing volleyball.
AM: How vital is sun protection for you especially when you're on the court?
AR: The first 2 years that I played, it wasn't really something that I thought about that much! I didn't wear a hat a lot of times I didn't wear sunglasses, and I feel that I kind of paid the price for that I played in some really hot places. Ever since then, I definitely upped my suncare game. I think that I have improved the quality of sunscreen I use and I make sure that I always have zinc oxide (editors note: this is identified as a physical sunscreen that is made of natural elements found on the earth, and are said to “block” or “scatter” UV rays so they don't penetrate the skin in the first place. Zinc Oxide has more broad-spectrum protection and lacks hormone-disrupting effects on my skin). I always wear glasses with UV protected lenses 100% and I always wear a visor all the time. Even when I'm not playing, I'm always wearing sunglasses and a hat - even when I am driving. Sun gets in through the windshield and can damage your skin as the UV rays come in since you are in the sun driving. I feel like I have it down now!
AM: What's the difference between the shades you were for volleyball and the ones that you wear off the court?
AR: The ones on the court are very performance oriented. I sweat a lot so I have to have rubber on the frames so that they don't fall off of my face - it's my number 1 thing besides the lenses being polarized. I think it makes the image so much clearer. Off the court, I'm a huge sunglass fan - it's a huge part of my personality. You can use it to show who you are. I like to do something different and I never buy the same pair!
AM: How many sunglasses do you own - we have a feeling it is going to be a big number!
AR: I don't know the actual number. The sad thing is I go through them quickly. I horde them and then I leave them places. So I'm always needing new pairs of sunglasses and it's a really bad habit of mine. I love them so much - so I find a pair, I buy them and then I lose them!
AM: What are your must haves to wear on the court and then what do you wear when you're going out to brunch with friends?
AR: Must haves on the court - I always compete in my Mizuno bikini and then sunglasses, and a hat. I really love the suit we wore at the Olympics with the high cut as I am a huge fan of the high cut bikinis - I like the way it looks and it's full coverage so you don't have to worry about it. Purple is my favorite bikini color to wear. I feel like it is feminine and powerful at the same time. I call it my power color as I love purple. Off the court for brunch and stuff, I'm super casual. I like to be feminine as I feel that as an athlete I'm so aggro all the time. I'm always in performance gear so I like to have frills and lace and flowy stuff. I'm almost always in jean shorts, but I'll have a flowy flower top and sandals.
AM: How did you prepare for Rio and how was it having a different partner as well?
AR: Preparing for Rio was one of the most intense experiences in life. My team with Kerri was all encompassing. We trained really, really hard as our coach Mario Sicoli had a very clear progression for us, and we stepped to that and we trusted him 100%. So everyday at practice was really tough. We had a sports psychologist that we worked with, which I hadn't done before. That was big! We added in a lot of meditation and visualization and had a ton of help with physical therapy. I felt the best that I have ever felt this year because of all of that support. But it was a 24/7 job that you never stopped thinking of it. When we got together 3.5 years ago, it wasn't like that - it was more like, let's see how this goes.
AM: That's what Kerri told us ...
AR: Yeah, we just said, let's just get on the court and do the best that we can and slowly it became more and more detailed. By the end, it was all-day every day on how we could perform the best that we could in Rio.
AM: All of that effort paid off as you guys looked so in sync watching you in Rio!
AR: We felt so in-sync. We felt it, it was crazy! From the first time, that we got on the court, I thought that we played well and had rhythm so the amount that we grew from that point astonished me. By the time we got to Rio, we were in each other's heads and we could flow together - we call it "dancing" and we danced together really well there. Then right after Rio ,we played together in the Long Beach World Series Beach Volleyball.
AM: We saw that and had no idea that your season continued on after the games!
AR: I was like, what are we doing still playing volleyball - but it was so mindless at that point and we just played together so well that we just breezed through that tournament. But yeah, it's super sad to me that it's over as our last tournament ended last weekend and we've played so well and worked so hard to get to this point, like I just want to keep playing. I'm bummed that it's over, but I'm really proud of the point we got to and how we played in Rio.
AM: Now will you guys continue on as partners when the season starts again?
AR: I am gong to try to start a family with my husband. As an Olympic athlete you have to base it on the quad and so if I can have a baby as early as possible in the quad that works the best, I might have to miss next season, but then the plan is to come back and qualify for the next one. If it doesn't happen according to plan, then I would end up playing next year and I'll play with Kerri.
AM: What do you do now that you're off for the season - what do you indulge in and what do you get back into doing?
AR: I travel a lot, which is crazy because I do it a lot for my job as well. Honestly, I book as many trips as I possibly can. It's tempting to stay home, but when I do I get antsy.
Especially if it's not a purpose and I'm not training - I'm like what am I doing here? Any opportunity that comes up I am prone to say yes to. So we're going to visit President Obama this month with the whole team, throwing out the first pitch for the Angels, going to Vegas for a weekend, a trip to Italy and Germany to see friends that I have who are playing over there, I'm going to Mexico with a company called South of the Border Volleyball Vacations where volleyball fans go down and play and they bring in pros to hang out. I'm then going to Montana for a week after that for Thanksgiving and then onto Hawaii with my friend after that. It's super busy, lots of traveling and I like to have fun!
AM: How do you stay balanced and give yourself enough time that you need?
AR: I focus on what feels good to me and I don't know, if it's balanced but for me, it's what works. Like during the season and leading up to Rio the balance was off because I was training so hard and it was all about volleyball and now I feel like the balance will go in the other direction and that I will have too much fun because I am traveling too much. It will be hard for me to get into the gym and stay in shape because I definitely want to stay in shape for sure and eat healthy. When I was leading up to Rio, I didn't feel like hanging out with my friends or doing fun things and it's just understanding that being tired isn't an excuse to shirk on the balance in your life. Now that I am traveling a lot - last night I didn't want to go and workout but you're just tired - it's not like it's a death sentence. Just go and get it done. It's do what you know you should do. If you can be aware of that, it's a good way to keep balance in your life.
AM: What were your workouts like for Rio and what are they like for maintenance?
AR: Leading up to Rio it was very strength-based for explosive-minded speed and agility. It was hours and hours and hours of time spent in the gym every week. And now, I'm shifting to more cardio based. In between cardio - higher reps, lower weights for circuit workouts. You warm up and then do the circuits with lower weight higher reps and I end with running for about 20 minutes or so. I think that's a great balanced workout that's not killer and doesn't deter me from doing it. There are enough variations in the weights to keep it fresh and then I want to get inot pilates as I haven't done it and that's a goal.
AM: We loved your comments in ESPN's Body Issue about strong versus skinny.
AR: I think that being strong is more important then being skinny. If you focus on being strong, you're going to have a fit body type. Mentally, it makes us feel stronger as a person and I think it just makes us feel better.
For me, if I'm not strong, I ache a lot more. My back hurts, my knees hurt and I get tired more easily. The whole package of being strong makes you feel better about yourself and physically. Being skinny is all about deprivation and denying yourself and not living life, to the fullest. You need to be able to indulge when you're eating and enjoy food and then focus on getting in the gym, sweating and getting those endorphins going. It's a much better lifestyle that promotes health as opposed to focusing on skinny. And I think that it (being strong) looks better. I think that looks are the last thing you should worry about, but it makes you feel healthier I think.
AM: How did April Ross and Xperio, come together in this partnership?
AR: For me, it was a no-brainer. I wear sunglasses all the time and their product is one of the best. It goes along with a healthy lifestyle and you have to protect your eyes. They have the best protection and performance wise the quality is very good for vision and clarity. They are launching a new program, All day Coverage when Exposed to Sun (A.C.E.S.) for that awareness. I like that and I like to have a bigger cause than just wearing a product. That was a big thing for me too.
Find out more about A.C.E.S., All day Coverage when Exposed to Sun and how you can support positive eye health.
See more from the Sept Issue.