Rustad squeezes Olympics into schedule
TIANJIN, China - Talk about a crazy nine months for Clare Rustad.
Five days before last Christmas, the cagey midfielder received an invitation from coach Even Pellerud to play once again for the Canadian women's soccer team, thus resurrecting a chapter of her life she thought was over and done.
Then, she was accepted in May to medical school at the University of Toronto. On Wednesday, she slipped on a red jersey and represented Canada in the first competition of any kind at the 2008 Summer Olympics, a 2-1 victory over Argentina.
To go to Beijing, the 25-year-old had to leave her job at the Centre for HIV and AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, but she is sure her boss understands.
"There was no way I was going to say no," Rustad said Thursday after another day of training in the intense heat and humidity outside the Tianjin Olympic Centre Stadium.
"It's been kind of surreal." Rustad, 25, believed her elite soccer days were behind her after a four-year hiatus from the national team.
In the meantime, she moved on with her life, finding passion and meaning away from the pitch. Building on her undergraduate degree in molecular biology, Rustad headed to England where she earned her master's degree in epidemiology from Cambridge University.
Home beckoned, so the Saltspring Island, B.C., native returned to the west coast to put her education to use and help some of the most disadvantaged people living in one of the world's most beautiful cities.
"A lot of people don't realize that the downtown east side in Vancouver is often very similar to a developing country in terms of both living conditions and the prevalence of HIV and AIDS," she said.
"I do care about it. A lot." So much that she's off to the University of Toronto medical school after the Olympics for the next step in her medical career.
A superb scholar, Rustad turned down four other offers to study at the U of T.
"I've always been interested in pediatrics, but after living in Vancouver and living blocks from the downtown east side and dealing with all the infectious diseases, the Hepatitis C and the HIV down there, I think that's some thing I'd like to get in to," she said. "There's a shortage of doctors who want to do that." For now, Rustad has other matters at hand -- like a shot at an Olympic medal.
"It's a great story," said captain Christine Sinclair. "Being on the team, then not being on the team, then she goes away and gets her master's degree, and then she's back, and then gets accepted to med school. Wow.
"She does a tremendous job for us." Up next for Rustad and her Canadian teammates is a clash with the speedy, shifty Chinese women on Saturday in Tianjin. The tournament then shifts to Beijing for Canada's final qualifying game Tuesday against Sweden.
During her time away from the national program, Rustad kept her skills up by playing for Cambridge and the Vancouver Whitecaps. She also coached kids on Vancouver Island.
"Just proves anything can happen," said goalkeeper Erin McLeod. "It's just really cool. A year ago, she wasn't even on the roster. All of a sudden, she gets her chance.
"It just proves you always have to be ready." With the days ticking down to the start of medical school, Rustad has no idea if she'll actually be ready in time.
But first things first. After all, this is the Olympics -- one of those true once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
"We've very focused on what we're doing right now," she said. "Very focused on getting the rest we need and recovering as quickly as possible and just coming together as a team even more in our downtime.
"I'm just really enjoying being here. I mean, how can you not?" Vicki Hall is in Beijing as part of the Canwest News Service Olympic team
© The Edmonton Journal 2008