TORONTO — Kara Lang has no regrets.
The former Canadian soccer star’s comeback bid went horribly wrong when she suffered her third major knee injury — this one the worst of all — in February.
But the 27-year-old from Oakville, Ont., launched her brave and painstaking rehabilitation program last spring knowing there were no guarantees. She said then that the attempt was success in itself. She had to know she at least tried.
"I learned a lot about myself in the process, and a lot about my body in the process," Lang said Wednesday. "I never would have expected that to be the outcome. But at the same I don’t regret it. I had to try."
Lang’s hopes were to be back on the pitch for Canada at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Instead, she’ll be a spokesperson for the event — she was named the World Cup’s first official ambassador on Wednesday.
The five-foot-eight Lang, who was known for her booming shot, doesn’t know if she’ll ever play again. She’s not thinking that far ahead.
"I know that the rehab process timeline doesn’t really get me back in time for the World Cup, so that’s not really an option, and beyond that I don’t know," she said. "I’m so early on in my rehab so I can’t really make any decisions that far ahead.
"But at the same time, being able to be part of the World Cup and be in this role is also very exciting. I’m still a part of it. I get to actually play an active role in getting people excited about it and promoting it and building awareness about it. That’s kind of the silver lining for me."
Lang was playing in just her second full-contact practice with the Canadian team in February when she so thoroughly shredded her knee, doctors told her it was the kind of injury seen in ski crashes.
"Was second day of full contact, but ironically it wasn’t even a contact play, I could have done it training on the beach the week before," Lang said. "I was alone, chasing after a ball, planting to cross it, and everything went. I heard numerous pops. I can’t explain why it happened and why it was so much more severe than the previous two times. But it’s definitely the most intense surgery I’ve had."
Lang had surgery on March 20 by Dr. Bob Litchfield in London, Ont., on the recommendation of Canadian slopestyle skier Kaya Turski and downhiller Erik Guay. Both Olympians had reconstructive knee surgery done by Litchfield. Lang had to wait for the surgery until Litchfield returned home from the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Lang had her anterior cruciate and medial collateral tendons replaced with cadaver tendons. She had microfracture cartilage repair — a procedure where tiny fractures are created to promote cartilage growth — because she’d ripped a piece of cartilage off her femur that was larger than a quarter. She also had her lateral meniscus tendon reattached, and the head joint of her fibula stabilized.
Arriving for an interview Wednesday, she laughed over the fact she was wearing boots with small heels for the first time in weeks, and was a little unsteady on her feet.
Lang was the youngest player to represent Canada in an international "A" tournament at just 15, and went on to play in two World Cups. But her career was derailed by two torn ACLs in less than five years, and she tearfully announced her retirement when she was just 24.
Another plus to her comeback attempt, she said, was working with Canadian coach John Herdman.
"I didn’t actually play in a game for him, but I trained with him and was playing for him in a way, and that was a great experience for sure," she said.
Lang said she’s looking forward to teaching yoga again — her dad owns a studio in Milton, Ont.
She’s also returned to broadcasting, a career she put on hold last spring when she began her comeback attempt. She’s doing sideline reporting for TSN at Toronto FC and Montreal Impact games and will work for TSN at next summer’s World Cup.
And she’s also excited about her position as global ambassador for not just next summer’s World Cup, but also the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup this summer in Canada.
It was that tournament (known then as the Under-19 World Cup) in 2002 in Edmonton that truly launched the international careers of Canadian stars such as Lang, Christine Sinclair, and Melissa Tancredi.
"It was huge, and not just for me," Lang said. "The core group of players who competed in Edmonton in 2002 were in London in 2012 when everybody watched them win the (Olympic) bronze. It changed my life and it changed the life of most of the players on that team. And If those women on that London team weren’t playing in that (Edmonton) tournament, they were watching it.
"So it developed our national team as well as inspired the up and coming players, and that’s what I think it will do, this one too."
Lang was playing both basketball and soccer at the time, and it was that tournament in Edmonton that determined which path she’d take.
The U20 World Cup, she pointed out, is a chance for Canadians to get to know youngsters such as Sura Yekka, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Jessie Fleming, sure to be stars for Canada’s senior side.
Lang received an outpouring of support both for her comeback and after her most recent injury, and she credits her large fan following to people who first took a liking to the Canadian players back in Edmonton, where they lost to the United States in the final.
"I think it’s a part of people feeling like they watched you grow up," Lang said. "I think that’s the feeling people will get watching the 2014 tournament, they get to see these players from the very beginning and feel like they’re a part of it from the very beginning of their careers. I think that probably has something to do with our fans are so loyal, because they’ve known us since we were kids."
Lang said her new career opportunities have helped not only her, but her parents get over the heartbreak of her comeback attempt.
"My dad said ‘I just don’t want to see you get hurt again,"’ Lang said. "They’re grateful I have something else to do now. I think the worst-case scenario would be if I was sitting at home depressed without something else to do and not knowing what to do with myself. But I have a lot of great opportunities right now, and I think as parents for them, that’s the most comforting thing.
"That’s not to say I’m not disappointed, but worse things happen to people. I have a lot to be grateful for. And I have a lot of things to focus my energy on and I think that’s the key."
Lang’s first official job as ambassador will be attending Canada’s friendly versus the United States on Thursday in Winnipeg. The official slogan for the 2015 women’s World Cup will also be announced Thursday, and individual tickets for this summer’s U20 tournament also go on sale.