Two-time Olympic gold medalist Rachel Buehler returned to the San Diego Polo Fields where she grew up playing with San Diego Surf. Photo Credit: Aaron Jaffe
U.S. Soccer News: Olympic Champion Rachel Buehler Returns Home to San Diego Polo Fields
What does it take to come back to the field where you grew up playing soccer, recognized now as a champion with two gold medals? In a word: perseverance.
RELATED ARTICLE: Rachel Buelher visits San Diego Polo Fields and Trains Surf GU9 team
What does it take to become a champion at the highest level? For San Diego area native Rachel Buehler, the short answer is “perseverance.” Over her youth, college and international careers, Buehler has persevered, worked hard and grown as a player, earning her second Olympic gold medal with the U.S. Women’s National Team this summer in London (her first was in Beijing in 2008).
Recently the star defender returned to the San Diego Polo Fields where she played as a youth soccer player at the San Diego Surf for many years. Her coaches were Colin Chesters and Ada Greenwood - both are still coaching ar Surf.
SoccerNation's Diane Scavuzzo joined Buehler to talk about her career and how she traveled so far from the San Diego Polo Fields, the U.S. Women’s National Team and the team’s recent gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics.
SNN: How does it feel to be back at the Polo Fields where you played for so many years at Surf Soccer Club?
Rachel Buehler: It feels wonderful. This is where I really grew up playing soccer. It’s just such a beautiful spot, first of all, and being back here just makes me smile. There are efinitely lots of feelings of nostalgia, and it actually makes me want to get out there and kick the ball around.
SNN: When you were out here kicking the soccer ball around as a youth player, did you ever think you’d be at the Olympics and have two gold medals?
Rachel Buehler: Honestly, not really. I always just played to have fun. I did hope to go to college and play – that was a goal of mine when I was younger. Of course it’s every kid’s dream to maybe go to the Olympics, but it was not something I thought was a reality when I was playing on these fields.
SNN: What do you think made it a reality? What got you on the U.S. Women’s National Team?
Rachel Buehler: I think one of my qualities that really got me where I am today is my ability to keep working on the areas I needed to work on – relentlessly working and improving, identifying those things and really doing something about them.
When I was younger and on the Youth National Teams I was always told I wasn’t quite technical enough. It’s still definitely not what I’m known for, but I’ve improved in that area so much. I think that’s what really helped me get on the National Team and stay there.
SNN: When you were a youth player, say U14 or U15, were you the best kid on the team?
Rachel Buehler: I always had a lot of athletic ability and great work ethic, so I was kind of a star in that regard, but not necessarily the best on the team. I think throughout my whole career I’ve always been improving, and that’s something I’ve taken pride in. As I grew up I continued to get better.
SNN: I’ve interviewed quite a few people who have played in the Olympics, and it’s a great honor every time I do, but the one thing that I seem to hear is that it took a lot of hard work to get there, not just natural talent. There may have been other players who it may have come very easily to, but then they sort of dropped off along the way.
What would you say are the top one or two qualities that have brought you to where you are today?
Rachel Buehler: I think just a kind of perseverance. I didn’t make teams when I was younger – youth national teams – and I’ve been cut from teams. Instead of letting that get me down, I asked what I could improve on and how I could make myself better next time to give myself a better shot at making it.
SNN: Can you tell us about a time you were cut?
Rachel Buehler: I didn’t make the U.S. U21 Women’s National Team with coach Jill Ellis for the Nordic Cup. She tells the story about how I didn’t make the team, but then she saw me a year later and I had made so much progress. She was so impressed by how I had really taken what she had told me to heart. She’s so proud of how far I’ve come.
SNN: So you turned what could have been a difficult situation into a real learning experience.
Rachel Buehler: Definitely. And that’s all you can do. Part of being an athlete is knowing you’re not going to make it sometimes for whatever reason – maybe you get injured – but overcoming those obstacles just makes you that much stronger.
SNN: Is that how you define ‘mental strength’?
Rachel Buehler: Definitely a huge part of it is taking something that is negative or difficult and figuring out how you can turn it into a positive.
I think having a positive outlook and an empowered outlook – figuring out what you can do to make your situation better and how you can think to approach something in a positive way – is the key to really enjoying it and being successful.
SNN: What do you think you are best known for as a defender?
Rachel Buehler: Definitely for being fearless, a strong tackler, physical – and that’s something I’ve always brought since being a little kid. It’s just who I am. I grew up with a bunch of boys in the backyard wrestling around, so that’s just part of who I am – fearless. And it’s so much fun for me to play like that and just totally let go.
SNN: There has been a lot of talk lately about the direction of women’s soccer. What do you think of the current state of women’s soccer in America?
Rachel Buehler: I think it’s great right now and has finally become popular. Stadiums are selling out and there are lots of fans for women's soccer today.
SNN: You were recently in Rochester with the Women’s National Team for the Fan Tribute Tour. How was that?
Rachel Buehler: That was an incredible environment. The stadium was sold out and the fans were crazy, they were so engaged. I think soccer has really kind of caught on here, and I’m actually being recognized more. People are much more aware, and I think the World Cup followed by the Olympics showed that our team is entertaining and fun to watch. It’s a great sport that even general sports fans will love and do love.
I think the Women’s National Team has captured a lot of people who maybe were just watching men’s soccer before, and now they’re big fans of ours. And it’s not just soccer fans but people who didn’t watch soccer at all. I have a lot of dads of friends who were more football, baseball fans, the traditional sports, and they’re telling me they love watching our team and they’ve watched every game. It’s really exciting to hear that.
SNN: Tell us a little bit about the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Rachel Buehler: We have an incredible team full of all different types of personalities, but I think the thing that is so great is that everybody truly cares about each other and plays for each other. We’ve had some interesting games.
We were down 2-0 against France in the very first game of the Olympics, and instead of getting upset or worried we just kind of came together and said, “We can do this.” We had so much faith in each other that we were bound to come back and win that game. There was just this energy and this unity that you just couldn’t stop.
SNN: The team is very eclectic and very outspoken. I think it’s setting a great example for young women in soccer and women athletes around the world. Can you give me your views on that?
Rachel Buehler: We have a lot of great and different personalities on the team. You have Christie Rampone who is the ultimate mother. She shows what it is to be a mom and continue to excel in your profession, especially this athletic profession. She’s just a stud and an example to all of us.
Hope Solo is a very independent person. She is incredibly strong and very talented, but not afraid to speak her mind. It’s an impressive quality – most people don’t have the guts and the commitment to do that.
You have someone like Megan Rapino who is such a character and does a wonderful job representing the game. She’s had the courage to talk about being gay and is proud to say that, and that’s a great example for many young people who are struggling with that.
Then you have Alex Morgan who is so popular with fans and has embraced that. It’s really great that we have so many different people on this team who can be role models for any girl or any person out there. The best part is that everybody is such a good person. That’s really what makes this team so special.
SNN: What did you think about Hope Solo rushing to your defense in that wonderful Twitter experience?
Rachel Buehler: That was funny because I didn’t really know any of that was going on. I stay pretty much out of the blogosphere, especially when I’m trying to stay really focused. I think it was nice she was trying to defend me, but I honestly was unaware of what was going on at the time.
SNN: What do you think about Pia Sundhage? Were you surprised about her announcement that she was leaving the Women’s National Team to return to Sweden?
Rachel Buehler: I was a little bit surprised because I know Pia loved the job so much, but she is from Sweden and the Sweden job opened up. How could you not want to represent your country and coach your country? She has been an incredible person for our team, and especially for me. She always gave me a lot of confidence and really gave me opportunities that I am so fortunate to have had.
SNN: How did you feel when you got your gold medal in London?
Rachel Buehler: It just felt incredible. I worked so hard for so many years, and when that happens it feels like, “Wow, this is it. This is so worth it.” It was great to be part of such a special team.
SNN: How did it feel when you got your first gold medal in Beijing?
Rachel Buehler: Both gold medals have been incredible. Definitely with the second medal I played a lot more, and that creates a little bit of a different feeling. I felt more responsibility on the field and contributed in that way, although I contributed in other ways with the first gold medal.
SNN: When you knew you had won the gold for America, what did it feel like on the field?
Rachel Buehler: It was absolutely insane on the field – Wembley Stadium, 80,000 people, cameras flashing, the sound. It was kind of surreal. You almost felt like you couldn’t quite process what was going on. We were all giving each other hugs and looking up into the stands and seeing our families. I think that’s when it really hit me and I got emotional because my family has done so much for me to be where I am.
SNN: It takes a lot of commitment from a family to help a player get to where you are.
Rachel Buehler: It really does, and it’s an emotional roller coaster for them. They have really helped me along the way, and when I saw them I got a little teary-eyed.
SNN: You wanted to become a doctor at one point. Do you think about becoming a doctor down the road when you hang up your cleats?
Rachel Buehler: Yes, definitely. I’ve been admitted to UCSD Medical School, but I’m currently deferring from there. It’s still a possibility because I’d really like to serve people in that way. I always wanted to be a doctor – my dad is a doctor and I think it is a really great profession.
SNN: What’s next for you?
Rachel Buehler: I’m getting married in November to Bobby Van Hollebeke. He’s from San Diego as well. We met when I was at Stanford and we’ve been dating for eight years now.
SNN: He’s been on the whole ride with you, then. Was he there in London when you won the gold medal?
Rachel Buehler: Yes. It was very emotional when I saw him in the stands because he’s been there every step of the way. Sometimes he’s my training partner, he chases down my long balls in practice and has really been there for me and helped me in this journey. He’s very supportive and I’m excited about getting married.
SNN: Are there any other projects in the works now?
Rachel Buehler: I want to help young soccer players learn how to play better soccer. I want to give back and share the joy of this incredible sport.
I am working on creating an app with Dave Dawson at Life Apps. Life Apps is a company that develops sports-related apps. It’s going to be a soccer training program where we take young or older players -- whoever is interested in learning -- through the important basic soccer skills and really break everything down and explain things. Everyone always need more help on the basic skills. I know this will help a lot of players - and it should be ready for Christmas so it can make a great gift. Volunteer coaches can use it for training, players can use it to get better, teams can use this to help review what's important. I am very excited about it.
But right now we are in development, so I can’t say much more. But in a few months it will be complete!
All photo credit: Aaron Jaffe
Related Article: Rachel Buehler on Women’s Soccer Today