By Jonathan Okanes - Cal Athletic Communications
The following is an article originally published in the summer edition of the Cal Sports Quarterly magazine.
Lauren Hein has a dog back home named “Cholida,” which in Korean means “I am tired.”
Looks like the residents at the Hein household may have been misidentified.
Hein recently completed an impressive and exhausting career at Cal. In addition to being a goalie on the Bears’ women’s soccer team, Hein took a rigorous academic workload and graduated with honors with a degree in molecular and cell biology. In addition, she worked nearby an emergency pet hospital, oftentimes working late shifts and then showing up to soccer practice the next morning.
“I’d have practice in the morning, go straight from practice to class, and then go straight from class to work. I was exhausted,” Hein said. “I took a lot of naps. Naps were the best thing ever.”
Oh, and by the way, Hein also found time to study – a lot. She completed her degree with a 3.982 GPA, which earned her the Neufeld Scholar Athlete Award for having the highest GPA of any graduating female student-athlete on campus. Hein was also the recipient of an Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarship, which recognizes devotion to Cal and the combination of scholarship and athletic competition.
“Every athlete at Cal deserves recognition,” women’s soccer coach Neil McGuire said. “But as far as the combination of academic standards and character, I don’t think I’ve coached a finer athlete than Lauren. She’s the unsung hero of Cal women’s soccer.”
Hein fondly refers to her childhood home in Tustin, Calif., as “The Zoo.” She grew up with dogs, cats, turtles, snakes and rats, among others creatures. Hein said as early as age 7, she was telling people she wanted to be a veterinarian.
One thing was for sure: Hein seemed destined to wind up in the medical field in some capacity. Her mother, Susan, is a nurse and her father, Mike, is an x-ray technician. Hein said she considered going to medical school when she was in high school, but when she got to Cal and started volunteering at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, it reinforced her childhood dream to become a vet.
“I was surrounded by the health practice,” Hein said. “I knew I loved science and math, so medicine it was. I didn’t know if I wanted humans or animals. My mom always told me I was going to end up with animals. She could tell that I had a special passion for the animals.”
During winter break of her freshman year, Hein got the opportunity to shadow a vet in Newport Beach, Calif., who was a friend of the family. That motivated her even more to get more experience. She joined the Cal Pre-Vet Club, and it was there she met another student working at PETS, an emergency animal hospital in Berkeley. Hein contacted the clinic and got a job as a tech assistant.
Hein would either work from 4-midnight or 6 p.m.-2 a.m., making for some bleary-eyed 8 a.m. soccer practices.
“I had people telling me I was incredibly crazy,” Hein said. “I would take one- or two-hour naps on the days I had work so those nights I wasn’t too exhausted. But there were sometimes I was so exhausted and they could see it. I lost a little bit of focus. It wasn’t something that concerned them because I always had the right attitude at practice. I busted my butt. Even if I only got four or five hours of sleep the night before, I was trying my hardest during conditioning.”
Hein started seven games as a sophomore in 2010, but when Emily Kruger won the No. 1 job the following season, it became apparent her playing time was diminishing. Hein was the maid of honor at her sister’s wedding in September of last year, and with the preparations for that, along with her strenuous academic obligations, Hein decided not to play her senior season.
“I think toward the middle of my junior year, I started to realize that soccer wasn’t my end-all,” Hein said. “Making sure I could get the grades I wanted and get the experience in order to continue as a vet was what was important. Soccer wasn’t stopping me from that. So soccer became fun. Not that it wasn’t fun before, but when the pressure was off that I don’t need to play to have fun, it was actually really nice.”
Hein’s retirement lasted until the second day of fall camp. Backup goalie Kat Messinger, a former club teammate of Hein’s, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Hein had already decided she was going to go visit the team that day. It ended up being a more permanent return.
“I was talking to the team, trying to figure out how we were going to move forward. I remember thinking that I wish Lauren were still here,” McGuire said. “Then I saw her walking through the gate.”
Hein agreed to come back for her senior year. She started one game and shut out Nevada on Sept. 23. It meant another season of juggling soccer, schoolwork and animals.
“I don’t understand how she did it,” Messinger said. “Not only was she saving animals, she would come to practice every morning and had the highest GPA in one of the toughest majors. Just from a personal standpoint, Lauren Hein is a person I aspire to be like academically and athletically. It’s inspiring to look at someone who worked so hard. For a number of us, she was a person to look up to.”
Like her teammates, Hein made an impression on her co-workers as well. In the short time she volunteered at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, Hein was put in charge of mentoring new volunteers. She also got involved with the “Bad Rap” program, which focused on socializing pit bulls.
Despite no professional experience, Hein immediately started performing a variety of duties as soon as she started her job at PETS. She restrained animals, placed catheters, administered injections and took X-Rays.
“I hate to gush, but I thought she was really one of the most mature pre-vets I’ve worked with,” said PETS head registered vet technician Lisa Phoenix. “What she brought to us was just an amazing sense of teamwork. She was so easy to work with and so truly helpful. She was there to support the team. I was always disappointed when she had a soccer game and couldn’t work.”
And Hein saw the team concept at PETS as well, comparing the dynamic at the animal hospital to the one she regularly saw on the soccer field.
“It’s a team. There’s the receptionist, the techs and the doctor – and they all have to work together for a set goal of winning, which is saving the animal’s life,” Hein said. “I feel like the doctors are the goalies. As a goalie, I was always the one directing people where to go. I was the final end-all.”