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Buehler's Long Trek Back To the Field

It’s been a tough road back, but after two ACL tears U.S. U-19 defender Rachel Buehler is looking to get back to the FIFA U-19 World Championship and this time play the entire final. In 2002, the Stanford student did her first knee (her left) ten minutes into the U-19 WC final against Canada and had to sit and watch as Linsday Tarpley knocked home the golden goal in overtime to secure the inaugural title. Then, during the post game, her emotions took over and she cried tears of happiness, tears of sadness, tears of…well, she basically just cried the entire time. Two years later, Buehler is once again with the U-19s as they attempt to qualify for the 2004 World Championship, and this time she’s looking to get to the final, win and only cry tears of joy.

U.S. U-19 defender Rachel Buehler was happy after her and her teammates defeated Canada 1-0 to win the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in 2002.

You just couldn’t tell.

Ten minutes into the biggest game of her soccer career, Buehler tore the ACL in her left knee and was forced to watch from the sidelines as captain Lindsay Tarpley knocked home the golden goal in overtime to give the U.S. the title. She had planted hard on the surface while lunging for a ball going out of bounds and her ACL snapped, leaving her huddled on the ground and the fans grimacing while watching the replay on the gigantic stadium screen.

During the post-game celebration, Buehler’s emotions overflowed.

“I was insanely emotional when we won because I was crying from (tearing my ACL) and crying because we won,” said Buehler, who is looking to get back to the world championship again with the U-19s. “I just cried the whole post game. In all the pictures, I’m crying in them. It’s really funny. I kind of wish I wasn’t crying in them, but….I was.”

Two years later, Buehler is back with the U-19 WNT as she’s still eligible as she was born after the cutoff for the 2004 World Championship, which is Jan. 1, 1985. She’s been a big part of the team’s run in the CONCACAF Final Qualifying Tournament being played in Canada so far, as she’s started all of the USA’s first three games.

She ecstatic to be back and knows it didn’t come without a few more hardships and a lot of hard work along the way. Including tearing her other ACL.

It was six months after ripping up her left knee and the Stanford defender was back on the field for her club team in her first day of full contact when it happened again.

“I knew I had torn my other (knee),” said Buehler, explaining that she had stepped in a divot on the field and felt her knee shake. “It didn’t hurt. I just heard a pop though and started screaming anyway. I was just like, ‘Nnnnooooooooooo!’ No one believed me I had actually torn it.”

While Buehler admits she was initially “freaking out” about tearing her other knee, she quickly turned aside her frustration and took a positive outlook.

“I figured since I knew what to expect, rehab will be easier this time around,” said Buehler, who was fortunate to go through her second rehab with a college teammate with the same injury. “I was like, alright, I’m going to see Cindy my physical therapist again. It wasn’t that devastating. I was just like, well, got to do it again.”

This time, Buehler was back a month earlier, finishing her rehab in five months and playing her first college match in late August. Getting back into a good groove again was difficult at first though, as she struggled with her touch and confidence on the field, stating she just didn’t feel comfortable. She admits her freshman year could have been a bit better, but she started gaining confidence every game and soon was back to her old self, running down forwards and winning tough headers.

Before her first injury she thought she was invincible and immune to suffering something like an ACL tear, but now she realized anything can happen. As she looks back on the past two years, Buehler views it with admiration as it gave her some perspective.

“It allowed me to spend a lot more time with my friends and do other stuff that I realized I really do enjoy, so that was good in a sense.” said Buehler, laughing that her claim to fame is the picture of her right after blowing out her ACL in the World Championship final that adorns the cover of a first aid brochure.

Plus, it may have guided her to a career path. Buehler, who is studying pre-med at Stanford and is contemplating becoming a doctor, was intrigued with orthopedic surgery and this summer will follow the surgeon who worked on her knees this summer to get a feel of what the profession entails.

“I just thought it would be something more personal now that I’ve gone through it and seen what they do and how they interact with patients,” said Buehler. “I would be interesting to me. In orthopedic surgery you don’t just work with athletes, but I think it would be neat work with athletes and help them out in that way.”

As of now though she’s concentrating on her soccer and helping the USA get back to the World Championships to defend their title.

And her ultimate goal? Getting back to the final, winning back-to-back championships, playing the entire game and crying only tears of happiness.

“No sadness at all, just joy,” said Buehler.