After seeing Leah's story, I knew she was the next goalie I wanted to feature, especially given the ordeal I was experiencing. I haven't posted in awhile because I got the worst virus I've experienced since I can remember honestly. My symptoms included fever, body aches, hot and cold flashes, and cold sores that later turned into impetigo. Needless to say it was rough, and I could barely get through coaching, my mood was totally down, and I just wanted to lay in bed forever.
However, I read Leah's story and realized there's so many people out there going through chronic illness that deal with the symptoms I was experiencing regularly and continue to kick ass at life regardless of what they're experiencing on the inside. For that, Leah, and those that experience chronic illness, you are truly incredible and I hope this educates others like it did for me.
Leah just completed her first year at Lebanon Valley College (Div. III), where she earned the MAC Commonwealth's top keeper, going 12-3 in 15 starts with a .588 saves percentage, the third-best percentage in the country, and was named the Conference's Defensive Player of the Week five times. She did this all while battling Lupus Disease.
Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. The signs and symptoms of lupus that you experience will depend on which body systems are affected by the disease. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose or rashes elsewhere on the body
- Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure (photosensitivity)
- Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods (Raynaud's phenomenon)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry eyes
- Headaches, confusion and memory loss
The following was taken from the Lebanon Valley College athletics article, which can found in its full form here.
"Leah was diagnosed with Lupus during her senior year of high school, which was the peak of her lacrosse career at the time and when she was planning to attend Millersville University She was the reigning Berks County Player of the Year, and was leading Exeter Township to the state playoffs for the first time in program history. "I didn't fully comprehend what living with Lupus would mean and I tried to go about my life as normally as I could," admitted Leah. While there is no cure yet for Lupus, the Lupus Foundation of America is dedicated to helping to find a cure, and they run numerous events throughout the year to raise funds and awareness.
Leah quickly realized once she got to Millersville that the physical requirements of the lacrosse team's off-season workouts were taking a harsh toll on her health. "Being an athlete was an important part of my identity, and leaving the Millersville lacrosse team was a very difficult decision," said Leah.
After leaving the lacrosse team, Leah found another group of friends through participation in the rugby club team. Although she didn't always practice due to Lupus-related conditions, she found that having a support system was critical in maintaining self-worth and trying to establish a new identity. However, over the span of a few months, Leah began to miss lacrosse and wanted another opportunity to display her skills. "As much as I appreciated my experience at Millersville, I knew I missed lacrosse and that the best option for me was to find a Division III school where I could contribute and be competitive." She also noted that the Millersville players and coaching staff were extremely supportive of her decision to transfer. "Coach Mia Hall and the Millersville team remain my friends and many have reached out to congratulate me on the great season we had this past spring."
During the summer after her freshman year at Millersville, Jen Eck '19, an All-Region defender for Lebanon Valley, reached out to her former high-school teammate and mentioned that she enjoyed playing lacrosse for the Dutchmen. The two have known each other since elementary school and became closer in high school when they became a defensive unit on the lacrosse field. Jen then set up a meeting with Leah and head coach Jackie Dando.
"I immediately connected with Leah and her family on their first visit to campus last summer," said Dando. "I knew the potential she had to impact our team and conference, but I also realized there would be challenges along the way."
Leah went took a campus tour, was accepted to LVC, and enrolled this past fall. "My transfer happened very quickly," said Leah. What I liked about The Valley was the academically rigorous courses, the faculty-to-student ratio, and their established MBA program. I also liked the idea of being near my family and friends in Reading and Harrisburg, as well as being able to easily seek treatment for Lupus with my rheumatologist." The deciding factor for Leah, however, was being able to play lacrosse again. "The coaching staff has been amazingly accommodating and understanding when it comes to my limitations."
After arriving in Annville and starting lacrosse practice, Leah fit in seamlessly with the rest of the Dutchmen thanks to playing with or against several teammates in high school. "I played on the same team as Jen, but I also played against recent graduate Emma Jones, as well as current players, Emily Mackey '19 and Kayci Strous '21. "I was most familiar with Jen and Emma due to their proximity, and Emma may have been the first to score a varsity goal against me," said Leah with a smile.
Lupus has affected Leah mentally and physically. "Not knowing is the worst part of the disease," said Leah. "I think about it all the time and not just in an athletic sense. I'm always concerned that I'll be affected during practice or a game, which happened multiple times this season, but for the most part, I'm able to play through the pain and fatigue due to adrenaline and force of will."
Despite her illness, Leah is determined not to let her team down and always tries to maintain a positive attitude, as difficult as it may be. Every day, she faces challenges such as fatigue, pain, dietary restrictions, immunosuppressant drugs that affect her immune system, and illnesses like the flu, a cold, or a virus. "While I may cancel plans at times or not get to practice every day, I still get to do what I love and contribute to the team's success," said Leah. "I didn't think that was possible just a short while ago."
In her first season at LVC, Leah guided the Dutchmen to their first-ever MAC Commonwealth Championship game. "She developed a close bond with her teammates and coaches, especially assistant coach Marina Venezia," said Dando. "Leah played inspired, and you could tell that she was meant to be back playing lacrosse. Halfway through the season, she started to not only lead the defense, but the entire team in games and timeouts and her teammates listened to and respected her."
This past May, Leah became the first Dutchmen to be named the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Division III National Player of the Week thanks to a 2-0 record with a 6.00 goals-against average and a .692 saves percentage.
Leah, who is entering her junior year academically, but with sophomore-year eligibility, hopes to continue to give 100% effort in her years to come at LVC. "My only true expectation for myself is to continue to give it my best when I'm able, and support the team in any way that I can," said the First Team All-MAC Commonwealth selection. Whether I'm on the field or on the sideline, I expect my team to know that I'm always there for them."
One goal that Leah hopes to achieve in the next few years is to make it back to the conference championship game and win it. "While we had an amazing, breakout season this past year, I feel that our upcoming seniors deserve to go out making program history, and I can't think of a better way to show them how much their hard work is appreciated other than doing my part to support their efforts," she says.
Even though her individual achievements this past season were memorable, Leah wants to succeed in the coming years as a team. "The awards this season were great, but the best part of those awards was growing the recognition of the entire LVC women's lacrosse program," said Leah. "Ultimately, the biggest expectation I have for myself is to leave the program better than it was when I arrived." Since being diagnosed with Lupus back in high school, Leah's road to LVC has certainly been bumpy, but with the help of her teammates, coaches, family, and professors, Leah will continue to fight this disease and fight for her teammates."
While there is no cure, there are organizations doing research like the Lupus Research Alliance. You can find more information about them here and donate to the cause.