April Ross has been active in the fight against breast cancer for a long time now. She was a sophomore at USC, coming off a National Freshman of the Year season, when her mother, Margie, died after 15 years battling the disease. Ross won NCAA titles as a junior and senior. She played professionally indoors in Puerto Rico before her love for volleyball waned, and Ross actually once left the sport. She was a restaurant hostess (at House of Blues in Anaheim) before being encouraged to go into beach volleyball. Today, she has an Olympic silver and an Olympic bronze medal, the latter coming last summer with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Ross will be 35 on June 20. She'll be 38 at the time of the next Olympics, but she says Tokyo 2020 is her goal. Margie is still giving her the spirit to press on.

"My mom is one of my biggest inspirations for sure," Ross says. "I've seen how hard it is to fight that battle and she fought it for a long time. I kind of go back and remember her battle, and anything I'm confronted with, whether it's volleyball or in life, a lot of it pales in comparison and it's like that's not that bad. I've seen what she went through and I can handle this. I can be brave and I won't give up. She didn't give up. She was just very inspiring, especially in hindsight. I was pretty young when she had it and she passed away, but the more time goes on, the more I realize how strong she was as a person."

Part of Ross' work outside of competition is her involvement with Side-Out, a volleyball-based national charity that funds research and clinic trials for stage four metastatic breast cancer. During the AVP's New York City Open this past weekend (the first tournament she has won with Lauren Fendrick as partner), Ross hit with girls from two local high schools.

The foundation's "Dig Pink" events showcase volleyball matches geared toward raising money for the charity. Pascack Hills in New Jersey and the Calhoun School in New York recently hosted Dig Pink events. Ross recognized their efforts by signing volleyballs, taking photos and bringing them onto the sand after her second-round match.

"I just want to give any kind of reward to the girls who put so much into fundraising for a good cause," Ross says of the Side-Out group. "If they enjoy doing this, I want to do it for them. I want to encourage them to keep fundraising because I've seen kind of the fruits of their labor. I've been in the research facility and stuff, and it's really cool research their doing. I know it's for a really good cause and I want to reward them if I can."

Ross is from Orange County, California, but the tournament's setting at Hudson River Park's Pier 26/25 in Manhattan provided a unique connection to the memory of her mom. On one side, players faced a temporary scoreboard. On the other side, the Freedom Tower -- at the former site of the two World Trade Center towers -- rises into the sky. For all Americans, this structure has emotional relevance. For Ross, the tower has even more meaning: Sept. 11, 2001, was also the day of that then-19-year-old April attended Margie's memorial service.

"My dad was more sports advice, but what I got from my mom was she was just so supportive all the time and it didn't matter whether I succeeded, whether I failed, whatever happened," Ross says. "I knew that she was always in for me, very emotionally supportive. And always encouraged me to be authentically me and that went a long way. I always and I still feel compelled to follow my heart and do what's right for me, and I think that comes from her."

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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