Aug. 7, 2008
The Oregonian Staff
Twins and soccer stars Megan and Rachael Rapinoe get their fifth and final chance at playing a full season together this fall. Since they enrolled at the University of Portland in 2004, injuries, sickness or national team call-ups have pulled the sisters apart.
As seniors this season, both recovering from knee injuries that ended their 2007 seasons, they hope to lead UP to its third national title. Their quest begins today with the opening of preseason training camp. The team opens the regular season Aug. 23 against the University of Oregon at Merlo Field.
"It's just ridiculous," Megan Rapinoe said, recalling the events the past four years that have kept her from playing with her sister.
Megan Rapinoe redshirted her freshman season to play in the 2004 FIFA World Championships with the U.S. under-19 team. In 2005, Rachael Rapinoe was diagnosed with anemia after nine games and took the rest of the season off to recover. The sisters played 10 games together in 2006 until Megan Rapinoe's season ended with a torn knee ligament.
Four games into the 2007 season, Rachael Rapinoe suffered the same injury. Same knee. Same ligament. About a week later, Megan Rapinoe re-tore the ligament in her knee.
"Fate's a funny thing," Rachael Rapinoe said, explaining why she feels grateful for the timing of her injury.
With no bum knee, she would have played her final season with the Pilots last fall. But because of the injury, she was granted an extra year of eligibility.
"Even though it was a hard year and hard to go through the rehab," the forward said, "I'm really glad it happened, because I want to play with (Megan)."
Another consolation to their fate: at least they could go through rehabilitation together.
"So many times," Rachael Rapinoe said, "I would ask Megan, 'Is this clicking?' or 'Is this painful? Is this popping? Is that normal?' "
Two months into Rachael Rapinoe's recovery, she said, her knee began to feel good. Really good. She could fully bend and straighten it. So one night, she decided to go out partying with friends. She jumped around a lot on the dance floor. Then back at home for winter break in Redding, Calif., she put added pressure on the knee Christmas shopping. It was too much activity, too early.
"I suffered a lot of repercussions," Rachael Rapinoe said.
On Jan. 16, two months after her original operation, she returned to the hospital for a second surgery.
Meanwhile, Megan Rapinoe was determined to avoid the pitfall of her first rehabilitation.
"I wanted it to be quick," the attacking midfielder said of the first go-around. "That was my mind-set, no matter what anybody else told me. It wasn't until after my second one that I made the decision: 'That doesn't work. You have to take it slow.' "
This time, she heeded what her doctors, physical therapist and body were telling her: Be patient.
It wasn't easy.
"That's part of the emotional stress you go through: Feeling like I have to do everything I can to get back, when some days doing everything you can is sitting on the couch all day and not doing anything and not working hard and not breaking a sweat for three weeks," she said. "Being an athlete, that's the opposite of everything you want to do. It takes a different kind of strength than what we're used to."
So far, so good.
"The knee feels awesome," she said. "I know I'm healed now."
For the past six weeks, she's played in a local summer league "full out."
Rachael Rapinoe, on the other hand, has progressed into running and other workouts, but still at the no-contact level.
"Definitely, by Aug. 23 I'll be ready," she said.
UP women's coach Garrett Smith concurred. At the same time, he said he has repeatedly told both Rapinoes, "You don't have to rush anything. All we want is your health, first and foremost."
So do the Rapinoes. Staying injury free will be the key to winning the Pilots' third national title, they said.
"We've made it to the quarterfinals and lost by one goal every year since '05, and we haven't had our full team out there," Rachael Rapinoe said. "So you can imagine what it would be like if we did have our full team all season."
"Championship or bust" is the team's motto this year, she said.
"Anything less," her sister added, "is a disappointment."