Soccer star Rachel Van Hollebeke retires – 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 biochemistry 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 as 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, and will begin medical school at UCSD next week.

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 2008 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.”

Seven 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.

Van Hollebeke, the daughter of a noted San Diego heart surgeon, passed her med school exams in 2008 and was admitted to UCSD’s prestigious school of medicine in 2011 but deferred entrance for four years. She turns 30 on Wednesday.

“I’m sad to be leaving the game because I love soccer,” she said in a U.S. Soccer release announcing her retirement. “But it’s also been a passion of mine for a long time to attend medical school, and this is the right time to start that journey. Soccer has been a huge part of my life but I am so excited for this next step. I feel ready. I felt a shift this year and it was the right time to begin this part of my life.”

Van Hollebeke, currently with the Portland Thorns of the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League, could play her final game Sunday night at Portland’s Providence Park against the Washington Spirit. She starts med school the next day and could miss the final regular-season game Sept. 4 in Rochester, N.Y. If the Thorns make the NWSL playoffs – they’re currently in fifth place and the top four go – she might be available to return.

“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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