When his soccer career ends Thursday night at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Kyle Altman figures to leave the field feeling both regret and reborn.
The three-time captain of Minnesota United FC, considered one of the top central defenders in the North American Soccer League, never reached his goal of playing Major League Soccer, something his teammates find bewildering. But he is following a greater calling now, one he postponed for three years and could no longer put off.
Altman is going to medical school.
A white-coat ceremony will officially begin the 27-year-old’s journey on July 21 at the University of Texas Health Science Center’s School of Medicine in San Antonio. Where it ends, Altman is unsure. His father, Alan, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in bones and joints. Altman hopes to become a surgeon of some sort because he values interacting with people.
Choosing a specific medical discipline, which Altman said will take place in his “third or fourth year” of medical school, should be a less arduous decision than the one to give up soccer.
“You don’t control what opportunities you have, but you can control what you do with the ones you have,” said Altman, referring to medical school. “I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to myself to not take advantage.”
Quest for epiphany moments
Altman, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., grew up being taught the values of education, one reason he said he chose Trinity University in San Antonio. The campus sits about 8 miles south of where he will attend medical school.
Soccer came first, however, when New England selected Altman in the 2008 MLS supplemental draft. He left Trinity, where he played with older brother Kelly and was a two-time NCAA Division III All-America, one semester shy of graduating.
Unable to crack New England’s roster, Altman joined the Minnesota Thunder. In 2009 he sat out the season and completed his undergraduate degree in economics with a minor in chemistry while doing pre-med coursework.
A strong science interest runs through the Altman family. His mother, Kathy, was involved in marine biology before she had three sons. His oldest brother, Ryan, is an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas.
“I’ve always been interested in the way things function; not how things happen, but why,” Altman said. “I love that epiphany moment when you realize why something is the way it is.”
‘Don’t bother asking’
Accepted to medical school in 2010, Altman asked for a one-year deferment while he restarted his soccer career. He made similar requests in 2011, before leading the then Minnesota Stars to the NASL championship, and again in 2012, when the Stars returned to the finals and he was named to the league’s Best XI team.
Students are granted deferments, Altman said, to pursue “real-world experiences” or to “get their finances in order.” Second deferments are unusual, third deferments rarer still.
“I got an e-mail from one of the doctors that said, ‘Don’t bother asking for a fourth,’ ” Altman said.
The penalty for a fourth postponement, Altman said, would have been the time and expense involved in retaking much of his coursework and reapplying for admission to medical school.
Nevertheless, he tried out earlier this year with Portland and D.C. United, two MLS teams. Making either squad would have put medical school on indefinite hold, a sacrifice Altman said he would have made “because it’s a dream.”