From Olympic gold and USWNT glory to the Covid frontline: Dr. Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke

She won Olympic football gold twice with the USA Women's National Team, now this soccer star is defending against a very different type of threat
By Ken Browne

Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke won Olympic football gold at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics, now she's gone from football to the frontline of the Covid-19 coronavirus as a doctor at home in the United States.

Nicknamed 'Buehldozer' on the pitch for her tenacious style as a defender, now they call her 'Doctor Dozer' in practice, bringing the same energy and dedication from her USWNT days to helping people and saving lives.

And she says that she has taken many skills with her from one field to another.

"Teamwork. Understanding your role on a team. That work ethic, that determination really translates," the 35-year-old told CBS News at the beginning of December.

After over 100 appearances for the USA senior national team and more than ten years of college and professional football, Buehler Van Hollebeke retired in 2015 and started medical school literally a day later.

This Olympic champion followed her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather into medicine. Even her younger sister is a doctor now too.

"It just makes me feel proud that I've had a family that has really given a lot back to society, to humanity and caring for people," she said.

At London 2012 she was a key player in the USA's historic three-in-a-row gold medal victory.

Buelher Outstanding in two fields

But this decorated Olympian, who also won a runners-up medal at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, always had it clear that she would go into the medical profession.

After shining at Stanford on and off the soccer pitch, then going pro as a player, she deferred her admission to medical school at the University of California-San Diego four times.

But the young Rachel Buelher always kept one foot in medicine, learning from team doctors and volunteering at local hospitals, living one dream while constantly preparing for another.

Her USWNT teammates were only too happy to help out as she studied for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) while on the road, playing international matches all over the world.

Some of the biggest soccer stars in the women's game suddenly turned teachers and would test Buehler.

"Abby [Wambach] and Pearcy [Christie Pearce Rampone] would quiz me on the bus rides with my flash cards," recalled Van Hollebeke. "Abby especially loved quizzing me."

It all paid off and when she retired from the professional game and the USWNT in 2015 she went straight into studying to become a doctor. By 2019 she was one.

COVID-19 "Reaffirmed my passion for medicine"

Married since 2012 to Bobby Van Hollebeke, now the couple have a two-year-old daughter, and mom is working 12-hour shifts to help control a surging coronavirus at the Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, California.

The hospital is in a part of San Diego County that has been hit hard by COVID-19, it's close to the border between America and Mexico, and home to a high population of essential workers, according to Van Hollebeke.

True to the ethos of the USWNT team standing up individually and collectively for social and political issues, she sees inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

"It’s very prevalent in the community for sure, and it’s affected many of my patients, whether they’ve been sick or have family members who have been sick or family members have passed away," she told 'Good Morning America' in December.

"COVID has not affected different populations equally. It’s really highlighted the racial disparities and socioeconomic disparities, and we do serve a more underserved population, primarily Latino and more working class, and it has affected our patients even more."

This double Olympic champ is using her platform to share information about the threat posed by the virus, stressing masks, social distancing, and following the guidelines can help fight the spread.

"I don't want to be like a fearful person, but it is a very real disease and it is very dangerous," she told CBS.

"Every patient encountered, you're prepared in case somebody is COVID positive."

But working through this health crisis has also proved that she's doing something she loves.

"I think it’s challenging but at the same time has reaffirmed my passion for medicine."

Team Player

On Good Morning America, Van Hollebeke spoke more about how playing football has prepared her for life as a doctor.

"Medicine is all about teams, doctors don’t ever work by themselves -- there’s doctors, nurses, so many different support staff and patients."

"And obviously there's work ethic that you develop as a professional athlete, as an athlete in general, working on things over and over again," she says.

"I used to kick a ball against a wall with my left foot 1,000 times to try improve the way I was doing a skill."

"Medicine, too, is all about building your skill set over time and practicing things over and over and learning things and just diligently chipping away at the amount of information that you’re attempting to learn and always relearning," she added. "I really enjoy constantly trying to improve, and that’s something I loved in soccer."

"You’re always learning in medicine."