Some eight months after she launched a comeback effort that has been both remarkable and at times painstakingly monotonous, Kara Lang cleared a huge hurdle last week.
And a dream became real, nearly three years after two torn ACLs forced her to walk away from the game.
The former Canadian women’s soccer star had travelled to Vancouver to meet with coach John Herdman. The two were doing one-on-one drills – an assessment on Herdman’s part, a chance to finally play against some opposition with the ball at her feet for Lang.
“That session with him, that was exciting for me,” Lang said Thursday night. “Training with John was the first really intense soccer-specific session I’ve had at this point. It was difficult because I was demanding something of myself that I haven’t, skillwise, in a very long time.
“And I felt rusty, but it was also encouraging that after one or two tries, things were coming back, and there were a few things that came back right away.”
Lang will participate in this month’s national team training camp in Edmonton, and could sit on the bench when Canada hosts South Korea in a friendly.
“Will she play in the game? No,” Herdman said. “She’s not ready for that. We’re taking it week by week and just building little pieces to the jigsaw puzzle. And the only goal I have for Kara Lang is that we get her on the pitch in 2015.”
Lang – at the suggestion of Herdman – began her comeback bid in March, spending the better part of every month training in Montreal with Scott Livingston, a conditioning coach and athletic therapist with B2ten.
The 26-year-old from Oakville, Ont., will join the women’s residency program in Vancouver following the friendly in Edmonton, but has moved her homebase to Los Angeles, where she lives with boyfriend and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero.
Lang said the two have become each other’s pillars of support in what’s been a rough time for both athletes.
“He’s been incredibly supportive since the beginning, since I decided to take this on last year,” Lang said in a phone interview from L.A. “He even comes out and helps me train right now, with the on-field conditioning stuff, he’s been helping me, timing me. And his high school coach (in L.A.) let me use their field, and stuff like that. It’s really nice.
Romero was drafted sixth overall by the Jays in 2005, and went on to play in the MLB all-star game in 2011. But he went 0-2 in just two starts last season, and spent most of its remainder down in triple-A.
“We both know what it takes and what it means to dedicate your life to something like this, and we’re definitely there for each other on both sides,” Lang said. “It’s just nice to have somebody that totally understands.”
Lang, who put her broadcast career on hold to resurrect her soccer career, said the progress has been steady, but purposely slow. The breaking down-building up process was meant to eliminate bad habits that Lang said she’d developed over the years, and some she’d been born with, teaching her to move in a completely different way.
“Everything was so controlled, so I didn’t have the kind of setbacks that I had had in previous rehab programs,” she said. “(Livingston) is so conscious of where I’m at, that sometimes he would need to pull the reins back a little bit on me, because obviously when I get a ball at my feet I get excited and I want to do more and more and I want to be out there longer.
“At some points you feel like you’re undertraining because B2ten is so much about being efficient and working smarter and not necessarily harder and I think that is something that I really needed to learn. That’s definitely been a weak point in my training in the past just because I always pushed toward working harder and longer and putting more time into it when really that was to my detriment.
“That was a big evolution for me and a bit of a growing pain for me getting past that feeling that I wasn’t doing enough.”
Herdman loved what he saw in Lang in his assessment last week.
“She’s pain free,” Herdman said. “And I think for Kara to be pain free, that’s a massive testament to the work of B2ten.”
Canadian defender Carmelina Moscato will join Lang in L.A. to train for a few days, and then Herdman said Lang will join the women for the last two days of their camp in Edmonton. She “might even sit on the bench with the team just to get a feel for what it’s like in that stadium,” Herdman said.
She’ll spend four months in Vancouver’s centralized development program working with both the specialists off the field and the technical experts on it.
Lang knows she has a few more hurdles to overcome.
“There’s the whole other side of it as far as on-field ability, so that’s a little bit daunting, because I have the utmost respect for the players on my team and the work they’ve done since I’ve been gone and everybody has gotten better,” Lang said. “So I know I have a big challenge ahead of me. But I’m also confident.
“I feel good physically so I feel like I can catch on, and I know that I’m willing to put in the work to develop and hopefully catch up to everybody.”
Having Lang back in the lineup could be a big boost for Canada’s World Cup campaign, and great news to the fans who’ve followed the five-foot-eight striker with the booming shot since she was part of Canada’s silver-medal performance at the FIFA U-19 world championships in Edmonton in 2002.
Lang, who was 15 at that tournament, scored three goals in six games, and she, along with the likes of Christine Sinclair, became firmly entrenched in Canada’s soccer consciousness.
She’s also the youngest player to be named to the national senior side, making her debut at 15 in March of 2002.