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April Ross is crediting her late mother Margie for inspiring her own courage and determination in both everyday life and in her professional sports career.
After losing her mother in college to metastatic breast cancer, the Olympic volleyball player, 38, tells PEOPLE she continues to find motivation by remembering Margie's fearlessness.
Ross says she recalls her mother's "courage and bravery" during her 10-year fight against cancer, and the athlete uses this as inspiration on the court.
"If we're in tough moments or things aren't going so well, I remember how much determination she showed us and I really find inspiration in that," Ross says of her mother. "I could step up and be brave and determined while I'm out here playing."
The two-time Olympic medalist, who will be vying for a third in Tokyo this summer, says she still feels as if her mother is looking out for her on the court.
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"If we have something go our way, if the ball hits the net and dribbles on the other side of the court, I pat my chest and point to the skies and say, 'Thanks mom, for making that go our way.' I just really feel her presence with me when I'm out there competing," Ross says.
As a partner with pharmaceutical brand Lilly, Ross hopes to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer and continue to honor Margie and her story.
"It's taken me a long time to be able to talk about my mom's story because it's so emotional and so close to me," says Ross. "Being able to share her story with everyone, hopefully, it helps other people, but also it allows me to keep her memory alive and it really makes me feel like she's even more with me now than ever before."
As she prepares to head to the Tokyo Olympics, Ross says she's been "training all day every day" and is "making up for lost time" after the Games were postponed from last summer due to COVID-19.
"Luckily we were able to create some creative ways to train during the pandemic and being out on the beach we were allowed to get out and do some normal training," she shares. "But to not have any competitions is a little nerve wracking for so long."
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For her third Olympic Games, Ross will play alongside first-time Olympian Alix Klineman.
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"I'm so excited to go with [Klineman] for her first time and see it through her eyes," Ross says. "I feel like we're getting better and better and we're positioned to do well."
With the extra year to practice, Ross says she and Klineman had the chance to work on different skills and are now "better off than we would've been a year ago."
"We've been held back and everybody's just anxious to compete and so excited," she continues. "I think it's going to be a great game."