For April Ross, the 2016 Rio Olympics have had both highs and lows.
The lowest point? When she and partner Kerri Walsh Jennings suffered a disappointing loss in the semifinal round, meaning that they wouldn’t win the gold or the silver medal.
The high point? Capturing the bronze in a hard-fought match against Brazil’s top-seeded Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes.
Sitting with PEOPLE in a lounge at the P&G Family Home in Rio, Ross reflected on her Olympic journey.
So what was the feeling when you took bronze?
We were so grateful to get on that podium. We were so devastated after losing in the semis, so it was a huge effort to turn it around and come back ready to play against the No. 1 seeded team in the tournament. They were also upset and wanted that medal really badly.
The bronze medal match was a really tough one.
Oh, it definitely was! We had to fight for it. We lost the first game, and then we were behind in the second, I think 12-9. But there was too much on the line, and we were there to win. No matter what, we could make a comeback. We just needed to stick together, believe in ourselves, and believe in each other. We had to fight for every point.
You were playing Brazilians in Brazil. You were the away team. Did the crowd bother you?
It really didn’t. I enjoy that kind of atmosphere. It gives me a lot of energy. But I also had to get in the zone and not pay attention to it. I was there to win. At the end, I was totally focused on Kerri and winning.
But let me say this: my family was at every single match, decked out in U.S.A. colors, and the crowd was great to them. They had a great time and no negative experience at all. And when the matches were over, the Brazilian fans came up to meet us. Everyone was really nice. They were cheering for their team as hard as they could. I can’t blame them at all for that! I loved them.
Last Olympics, you were playing against Kerri. She won the gold and you won the silver. This time, you were on her team. Was that strange?
It didn’t matter that she was my competitor before at all. We were a new team. It was a different dynamic this time; I felt like a completely different player than I did in London. But Kerri and I got really close, and I think it worked well for us. It was a whole new journey and a whole new story.
So a non-volleyball related question: you’re a new spokesperson for Aussie hair products. Why them?
I’ve always had issues with my hair. It’s curly and frizzy and crazy. And when I started playing beach volleyball, the sand and sun and wind just made my hair crazy. So I chose a product that worked for me and smelled good! That made my decision to work with them really easy.”