Back in the Limelight – The Kara Lang Interview
Free Kick caught up with Kara Lang – one of Canada’s favourite women soccer players – who first won our hearts as a 15-year-old in the U19 World Championships in 2002. Eight years later, she is preparing with the Canadian National team with the hopes to play in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup and second Olympics. With the second highest goal scorer in Canada’s history and back in the limelight with the Women’s World Cup on the radar, we thought we would see how life is faring for the Oakville native.
FK: What are you doing now?
KL: I recently graduated from UCLA in the Spring of 2010, and since then I moved from LA to Vancouver to play with the Vancouver Whitecaps. This fall, I’ve been in training camp with the National team. So right now, I’ve just been training pretty much non-stop until World Cup Qualifying, and if we qualify, we’ll be in residency.
FK: What did you study at UCLA?
KL: History and Art History.
FK: What’s the plan, career-wise, from what you studied?
KL: Honestly, I didn’t have any huge aspirations of taking History much further than an undergrad. Originally I studied it because I was looking to go to law school when I graduated and I thought there are a lot of options you can take in an undergrad that is good for going into law school. History is a big one, Political Science, English. I decided to study something I really enjoyed and I really like History, and I love Art. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about, and something I would enjoy while I was there.
FK: Are you applying for schools now?
KL: No, I’m not planning to go to law school anymore. I am actually interested in a Yoga Philosophy program that I’d like to take at Loyola Marymount University in California so that’s my long-term plan. But right now my plan is to stick with the National team and obviously our goal is to qualify for the World Cup so if that happens, then we’re all going to be pretty busy for the next year or two and then hopefully we’ll qualify for the Olympics as well.
FK: Your yoga meditation pursuit has been very important for you. Can you elaborate on what it means to you?
KL: For me, besides soccer, yoga is definitely my biggest passion. It’s my long-term plan. Soccer’s really something you can only play for so long. Once you’ve broken your body down enough, for me yoga is the best thing to build it back up. I am obviously focused on soccer right now and that’s my biggest priority and it’s just nice to know that yoga will always be there. I eventually plan on becoming a teacher. I’ve actually already started the certification process so when I’m done, that’s definitely something I want to do. My dad actually just opened his own studio this summer. When I’m in Ontario, I’ve had the chance to go to some of his classes. It’s just a really big part of my life and it’s something that I find grounds me and helps me stay focused.
FK: From what I’ve seen over time, your dad’s been influential in your life. Can you share about your family support?
KL: I definitely feel extremely fortunate to have the support of both my parents. From when I was 8 years old being carted back and forth to soccer practice to when my mom and
dad would have to drive me two nights a week and
every Saturday from Oakville Ontario to the Soccer Centre to train with the Provincial Team and eventually the National Team. My life became their life and I’m extremely grateful to them for that. Now, as I’ve grown up I get to see them pretty rarely, but when I do it’s so great. That’s why I’m so happy to be training in Ontario right now.
For instance, we played the closed door game against China and my mom was able to drive out for the game and today my dad came and taught a yoga class to the team on our day off. It’s just nice to be close to them.
FK: Do you find your yoga is influencing your teammates with your interests?
KL: I don’t know if I’m necessarily influencing them. I think more and more, society is becoming more interested in yoga, you can see that with the team as well. There are a lot more girls who have their own practice when they go home. So that’s nice, especially when we’re in Vancouver together as a team a lot of us have the chance to go and do some yoga. I think a lot of girls are getting more into it for sure.
FK: Regarding your tattoos, was there a spiritual influence from your yoga practice? I’m interested in the sub-culture you represent from your tattoos. What influenced you to have tattoos, and what are they?
KL: I got my first tattoo when I was sixteen in Vancouver. My parents didn’t really know about it but I don’t think I’ve ever really had a rebellious side because I’ve never really had anything to rebel against. I moved away from home when I was 15 and I kind of got to a point where I didn’t have anything to rebel against so there was no need. I think I’ve always loved tattoos and I love art and I’ve always looked at it as, if you like art and you appreciate art then what better place to showcase it then your own body. I think that it’s a great way to express yourself. I personally prefer very feminine styles for myself. I have a lot of flowers, I’ve got feathers on my wrist and I’m actually in the middle of some leaves. Very natural and very realistic type of art, of body art. That’s kind of the direction I’ve been going in. As far as yoga influencing it or it having anything to do with yoga I think it all goes together, like you said, there’s kind of a sub-culture there. When you really get down to it, it’s just self-expression.
FK: Did you help design it yourself? Did you draw it?
KL: My first tattoo, the one goes from my hip to my ribcage. It’s lilies. Erin Macleod (my teammate) and I designed it but she drew it for me. She’s a phenomenal artist so I was really excited when she agreed to do it for me. The feathers on my wrist, I designed them, but I’m not very artistically talented myself.
FK: Great that one of your teammates drew it for you.
KL: Yeah, I knew where I wanted it, and what I wanted. Lilies have always been one of my favourite flowers. I grew up with a backyard of tiger lilies so it’s very nostalgic for me. I kind of had the idea. I knew that Erin was the right person to draw it out for me because she’s such a great artist.
FK: What’s kind of interesting to me is the contrast between your two sides. We have the Lilies and the feminine gestures, the tattoos but you’re also very a tough player, really hard tackling. Is it this sort of double persona going on?
KL: Yeah, I guess so. I think I’ve always kind of been that way. I grew up playing tackle football but wearing dresses.
FK: Just balancing both I suppose.
KL: Yeah, I hope so. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been a bit of a girly-girl but at the same time loved to play with boys and physically been able to measure up to the boys, when I was younger at least.
FK: Because you had to prove yourself to be on the field?
KL: Yeah. Well and just growing up with an older brother. We were very competitive. At the same time, my mom braided my hair every day and would put me in hot rollers and stuff like that.
FK: I think it makes you more of a role model for a lot of female players out there because you have one side of female players, more tomboyish, more hard-core, then there are all these other girls and women who want to play soccer but then step off the field and become women again.
KL: Well absolutely. I think it’s important to know that you can still hold onto your femininity but be a strong woman. I think you can embrace your femininity and still prove that you can still do a lot of the things a man can do. I don’t think that you need to lose that side to be able to measure up. I think it’s important to show that and obviously to play this sport you need to be tough but you can still be a girl.
FK: It’s very interesting hearing these words from you because I think that’s why you have been appealing to the media and appealing to Canadians who first saw you play when you were a younger player. It’s why people have been interested in you. It’s a combination that a lot of people are attracted to.
FK: I think one thing that comes to mind with you is the injuries you’ve had. You’re still such a young player and you’ve had to overcome two massive injuries. Where do you feel you are with that right now?
KL: I think that right now I’m still in the recovery process from my second ACL. I think that it’s been harder the second time because I had all these expectations because my first surgery went so well and my recovery process was relatively short because I was fortunate and I put the work in. It all worked out really well to the point where up to three years later to where I re-tore it I didn’t have a single problem. So, this time around I think that I had the expectation that it would be not that easy because it was never easy, but that it would go as smoothly and I thought I knew, I’ve been there before. But the thing was, I hadn’t. Tearing your ACL once and tearing your ACL twice are two very different things. Just the trauma that your knee goes through in a second surgery where they’re removing screws from the first surgery to put screws into the same tunnels. It’s been a year now where as before I was on the field and playing at six months and I did everything the same, I probably worked harder the second time because I knew exactly what to do. So in that sense, it has definitely been a lot more frustrating. But at the same time I never lost sight of the fact that this is my path, this is just the way it is for me. The struggle that I’ve had to face because every player has to overcome something and this just happens to be mine. Right now this is the obstacle that’s between me and getting on the field. It’s been tough but I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I feel like my brain and my knee are connected for once. It’s coming slowly but it’s coming along.
FK: Do you feel the National team has been forgiving, open to allowing this process to you?
KL: I think that any high level coach or program has to be, because it’s such a common thing these days. Nobody’s going to put unrealistic expectations on your recovery process. At the end of the day, if your knee’s swollen to the point you can’t play, you can’t play. Who’s going to ask you to play through that? That’s been something for me that has definitely taken me a while to understand. The expectation of me coming back in six months the second time was only put on me by myself. That was something, for all the frustration and all the disappointment that I’ve been experiencing in the past few months, it took me some time to realize that I need to step back and acknowledge that everybody else around me is way more understanding of the situation than I am. Carolina (Head Coach for Canada) for example, she’s been through it too and she knows how long it takes and she knows when you come back you still don’t feel like yourself until about a year. So that’s been good and it’s been important for me to be in a supportive environment. That was a big reason why I was so happy to go to Vancouver this summer. As disappointing as it was to miss the draft to the WPS because of the surgery, everything turned out ok because I ended up where I needed to be. I got to play for Vancouver, I got to go back to what I feel is my second home and to be in the perfect environment for a recovery where people are understanding.
FK: Do you think the style of play that Carolina has brought will be easier? I assume she’s playing more Italian, ball-control than what the former national team coach had. How do you feel about that?
KL: We’re all really happy about the direction that the program is going and I think that it’s gonna take some time to transition into the style of play because we’re all capable of playing that way, especially with so many players going to the US, it’s so technical, college soccer. We’ve all proven that we have that ability and now it’s kind of turning it on and bringing it into this environment.
FK: How’s it looking for now? For qualifications? Is it expected that you’re going to be going to the World Cup?
KL: Absolutely not. I think we learned our lesson in the Olympic qualification tournament for Athens, Greece where we did definitely get ahead of ourselves. We still feel that we should have qualified but we went into that tournament thinking we were going to and I think that was our biggest downfall. Regardless of what we should have or shouldn’t have done, we didn’t qualify for Athens and we definitely learned our lesson. I think that we’re definitely positive and confident. The biggest competition is the US and Mexico and we need to either get first or second in the tournament so we have to make it to that championship game but we’re not going to go in over-confident. We know where we are as a team right now, and what we’re capable of but it’s soccer, anything can happen.
Canada recently beat China 3-1 at BMO Stadium and will compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup starting at the end of October in Cancun Mexico with the quest to qualify for the 2011 World Cup in Germany. They are in a group with Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Mexico with the final on November 8th.