Perfect embodiment of the Olympic ideal - The Province

Major dork' and proud of it

Ed Willes

She has her future mapped out, but Clare Rustad, pictured chasing Argentina's Mariela Coronel during Wednesday's Group E match in Tianjin, says she's not looking beyond the Olympic Games. 'I'm just enjoying being here. How could you not?' she told Ed Willes.
CREDIT: Koji Watanabe - Getty Images
She has her future mapped out, but Clare Rustad, pictured chasing Argentina's Mariela Coronel during Wednesday's Group E match in Tianjin, says she's not looking beyond the Olympic Games. 'I'm just enjoying being here. How could you not?' she told Ed Willes.

TIANJIN -- Clare Rustad will tell you it's actually quite simple.

When she was growing up, she liked soccer. And she liked school. So when you put those two things together, it shouldn't be completely surprising that she's combined both her passions in her adult life.

"I realize that makes me a major dork, but I don't care," the 25-year-old Salt Spring Island product said shortly after Canada downed Argentina 2-1 in their opening game of the women's Olympic soccer tournament.

Still, there's the sort of dork who aces the math test and shows up for intramurals. Then there's the dork who, say, gets her degree in molecular biology from the University of Washington; then her Masters from Cambridge in epidemiology; then gets accepted to medical school and plans to work with HIV and Hep-C patients because she's seen the human devastation in the Downtown Eastside.

And she does all this while finding time to represent her country in the Olympics.

You have to admit, that's not exactly the classic definition of a dork. It's more the classic definition of a superhero, and if you want to see the embodiment of the Olympic ideal, look to athletes like Rustad who represent the best part of our country and ourselves.

"I didn't mean it to happen this way, I swear," she said.

Then be thankful for whatever power has brought her to this place.

Canada, as expected, dispatched the Argentines in the heat, humidity and smog of the Olympic Stadium in beautiful downtown Tianjin on Wednesday, but a larger test awaits on Saturday when they meet the host Chinese team.

Candace Chapman gave Canada the lead in the 27th minute before Burnaby's Kara Lang scored in the 72nd minute on a textbook header from a set piece. Argentina's Ludmilla Manicler made things marginally interesting with a goal in the 85th minute but the final count flattered the South Americans.

"It wasn't necessarily the game we wanted," said Lang. "We expect more from ourselves. But we're happy with the result."

If not the environment they played in.

"We've gotten as used to the pollution as we can," said Lang, addressing one of the Games' main storylines.

"We all expected to feel a bit more tired in this environment than we're used to. But I was still a bit surprised at how thick the air was."

Still, if the team is going to experience respiratory issues in China, it will help to have Rustad in the lineup.

She first played with the national team as a 15-year-old back in 1999 before she interrupted her international soccer career to focus on her schooling. In 2001, she enrolled at Washington and left four years later with her first degree, then earned her Masters from Cambridge before she started working at St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver.

While she was collecting degrees like they were stamps,she was also making intermittent appearances with the national team, and shortly before Christmas, head coach Even Pellerud came calling, asking if she was interested in trying out for Beijing. She was, and after earning a permanent spot in the Canadian midfield, she was accepted to the University of Toronto med school, where she'll begin studying in September.

"School starts in September and that's September," Rustad said. "I've got my apartment [in Toronto] so that's big. But I'm not looking past this experience. I'm just enjoying being here. How could you not?"

Not that she hasn't thought about her future.

"After living in Vancouver and being blocks from the Downtown Eastside and dealing with all the infectious diseases -- the HIV, the hepatitis C -- I think that's an area I'd like to help out," she said. "There's a shortage of doctors in those areas."

And she's just the kind of dork who will do it. ewilles@theprovince.com
© The Vancouver Province 2008