Diagnosed with POTS, Sophia LeRose Leaned on Lacrosse

“I feel like a baller today.”

It’s the morning text from Sophia LeRose that Duke women’s lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimel is ecstatic to read. It wasn’t the text she received Friday morning. LeRose got off to a slow start, even skipping her 8 a.m. class — a very uncharacteristic decision for the disciplined graduate student to make.

But this wasn’t an instance of laziness. LeRose, 23, learned less than three months ago that she has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS. It’s a condition in which an excessively reduced volume of blood returns to the heart after an individual stands up from a lying down position.

The primary symptom is lightheadedness or fainting. It mainly affects women ages 15-50, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Doctors theorize that LeRose might have developed the condition after a mission trip to Colombia over winter break. They’re not certain. There is a lack of science and research on POTS, but for now, that’s their theory.

“It’s been a long two months trying to navigate this,” LeRose said. “But something I’ve held on hope to is lacrosse. The doctors told me, ‘Don’t anticipate being able to play again.’ That was really hard to hear two months ago. I had a great preseason, and I was ready to have an amazing season. To hear the doctors say that was very hard, but I used that as motivation.”

LeRose chose to keep the diagnosis quiet for the spring season. Duke has called it an “undisclosed medical condition.” She’s been limited at practices and takes breaks, sometimes even laying down, on the sideline. Anything to regulate her heart rate.

Heading into Sunday’s ACC tournament play-in game against Louisville, she’s ready to speak up and encourage others with POTS that everything will be OK.

“Soph is special ... she is a warrior.”

— Kerstin Kimel

Her life has certainly changed. LeRose is active — very active — but now she must scale back her recreational hikes and walks around Duke. Extracurricular runs to stay in shape are a thing of the past, at least for now, because she sometimes can’t go more than 15 yards without having to catch her breath.

Her diet has changed, too. LeRose takes supplements that help reset her gut, which then helps to improve her nervous system. She needs a lot of omega-3 in her diet, so she’s been scouring TikTok to find salmon recipes that don’t taste too fishy. There’s no more caffeine in her diet, and she’s significantly cut back on gluten and dairy. LeRose avoids processed foods and has upped her vegetable intake.

All of this on top of about 250 ounces of water and four to six grams of salt per day. LeRose said her legs are constantly swollen because of how much water and salt she consumes. Luckily, POTS is not life-threatening.

“There are sacrifices I have to make,” LeRose said. “The heat is not my friend. Being in the South, it’s really, really tough. I can’t go out tanning with my friends before practice. I can’t go out on the weekends. Those are things I have to give up right now to put myself in the best position to get back out on the field. Even baths and hot showers, I have to avoid them because they’ll increase symptoms.”

Returning to the field, even when doctors said she likely wouldn’t, has always been LeRose’s goal. Kimel calls her a warrior. And while POTS is the most severe health issue LeRose has had to deal with in her time at Duke, it’s hardly the first ailment that’s sidelined her. She’s dealt with multiple concussions and had bilateral shoulder surgery in 2021. In total, she’s had three shoulder surgeries.

LeRose has not played a full season since she first stepped foot on campus as a freshman in 2019. She felt physically great this fall. Kimel said she played great this fall. That made the POTS diagnosis more discouraging after she started and played all 60 minutes against Navy on Feb. 10.

That would be the last time she’d play an entire game wire to wire.

“My heart breaks for her because she cares so much about our team and is such a leader for us,” Kimel said. “She’s a driver of mentality for us. And she has not been able to be herself this semester and this season. Soph is special. But if you know her, she is a warrior. Any aspect of this that she can control, she’s trying to — and then some. She is so tough physically and mentally.”

That toughness was evident Thursday. LeRose struggled badly in the hours leading up to Duke’s game against reigning national champion North Carolina. It was so bad that she didn’t warm up or play at all in the first half. She started to feel better and worked with the training staff to prove her health. There’s trust involved both ways, she said, but LeRose also admitted that you can’t hide the symptoms. It’s easy to see when someone is dizzy.

LeRose did agility ladder drills on the sideline in the third quarter and convinced the trainers and coaches to let her play. The circumstances of the game were hardly friendly for a goalie, let alone one with her condition. She entered with 6:40 remaining and UNC leading 12-11. Just over a minute later, she let up a goal to Marissa White.

Duke then cut it to 13-12, and LeRose responded on UNC’s next possession by saving a rip by Melissa Sconone. UNC didn’t attempt another shot, but Duke fell 13-12. It was her final game at Koskinen Stadium.


Sophia LeRose in a 2022 game against Syracuse.

It’s been a rocky season for Duke (7-9), much like it has been for LeRose. She still thinks the Blue Devils have a run left in them, and that begins Sunday when postseason play commences.

After all, LeRose thinks she owes everything to Duke. Without the doctors she had at her disposal as a student-athlete, and without Kimel’s persistence, a diagnosis might not have come for months.

“I am so fortunate that I was here,” LeRose said. “It’s nauseating to think of how high my medical expenses were. Being a student-athlete, I had the privilege of getting in to see all the top doctors. To have the resources while I was still here, it was such a blessing.”

LeRose is in the process of finding doctors in Chicago, where she’ll move after she graduates to begin a job in sales at Marsh & McLellan Agency. She could have used a medical redshirt to return for a sixth season in Durham, but she said her body has been through enough. Mentally, she’s in a good place — even with POTS occupying her life.

It's a condition she could grow out of over time. The lifestyle changes will help. Not stressing about stopping an eight-meter shot or stuffing an attacker on the doorstep will help, too. Goalie isn’t a stress-free position, after all.

Despite the challenges ahead, LeRose promises to attack it all with a smile. The San Diego product is California cool and easygoing with her words, even with the weight of this struggle constantly on her mind. She wants to be a beacon of hope for other young athletes who share her diagnosis.

“Nine years ago, when I committed to Duke, I never would have imagined all of this,” LeRose said. “I have been dealt some tough cards with my shoulders, concussions and now this. I’ve never let it stop me. It’s only motivated me to keep going.”


Get the best and latest from delivered weekly straight to your inbox: