San Diego soccer star announces retirement – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Note to UC San Diego med school students: That first-year, 30-year-old woman sitting quietly in the back of your biochem class, you might want to get her on your intramural soccer team.

Her name is Rachel Van Hollebeke. You might remember her by her maiden name, Rachel Buehler, or No. 19 on the U.S. national women’s soccer team, winning gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, starting in the 2011 World Cup and scoring a goal as a defender, leading teams to championships in two different incarnations of women’s professional leagues.

The Torrey Pines High alum and San Diego Surf product announced her retirement from soccer Tuesday, both club and country. She’ll play for the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League on Sunday night. She begins medical school orientation at UCSD on Monday.

Med school has been the plan all along, since graduating from Stanford in 2007 with a 4.0 grade-point average in human biology and being named Academic All-American of the year by ESPN The Magazine. It was a logical move. Women’s soccer was between pro leagues, and she had yet to play for the senior national team.

“Soccer just took off,” she said in a 2008 interview after making the Olympic team under new coach Pia Sundhage. “Soccer just kind of got crazy. I want to pursue that right now and see how far it goes.”

Eight years, two Olympics, one World Cup and nearly another (she was the final cut this year), 113 national-team appearances, two different women’s pro leagues – that’s how far it went. She easily ranks as the best women’s soccer player from the San Diego area not named Shannon MacMillan.

The daughter of a noted San Diego heart surgeon, Van Hollebeke passed her med school exams in 2008 and was admitted to UCSD’s prestigious school of medicine in 2011 but continually deferred enrollment.

“My soccer career has been wonderful,” she said. “The last two years have been a bit more difficult for me with injuries and not making the World Cup team. Those things obviously played into this decision. Turning 30 (Wednesday), starting med school, the timing of everything played a role as well. All these different factors came together.

“I’ve been thinking about it, really, for the last year or two. It just kind of felt right to make that decision, to make that move now.”

In the women’s soccer calendar, the Olympics are the summer after the World Cup. Why not keep playing another year and chase a third gold medal?

“For sure, I definitely thought about trying for the Olympic team,” Van Hollebeke said. “But it was different feeling from any other time I tried to make a team. You have to be all in and know that’s what you want. I think my desire for med school just started to become greater. It was a shift. I felt like med school is what I wanted to do now.”

She quietly finalized paperwork to attend UCSD earlier this month, then picked Tuesday to make the public announcement.

Cold feet?

“No,” she said. “And that’s good. I’m glad that I feel that it’s right and I feel ready.”

Sunday’s game at Providence Park against the Washington Spirit may or may not be Van Hollebeke’s last. She’ll miss Portland’s final regular season game on Friday, Sept. 4. It’s in Rochester, N.Y. , and she’ll be occupied with a white coat ceremony at UCSD and taking her Hippocratic Oath. But if the Thorns make the NWSL playoffs – they’re currently in fifth place and the top four go – and play on a weekend, she might be available to fly in for the game.

“It is difficult to express what a privilege it has been to play for both club and country,” Van Hollebeke wrote in an open letter to fans. “If you’ve ever watched me during the national anthem, I take it very seriously and sing with all my heart. Wearing the red, white and blue for over 100 games is the greatest honor of my life and playing in two Olympics has been the highlight of my career.

“I will never forget the feeling of standing on the podium, gold medal hanging around my neck. I remember thinking about the countless hours of practice, the challenges and successes, and the people who helped me get to that point. I was so thankful and proud.”

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