Despite illness, Hess off to hot start
Bay Port’s Erika Hess has 16 goals in 7 games despite dealing with a condition called POTS (Rich Palzewic photo).
BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – There are some days Bay Port girls’ soccer player Erika Hess can barely get out of bed. You wouldn’t think that with her unbelievable start to the 2018 season.
The senior forward has defied the odds to become one of the best players in the state despite battling Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which is a condition in which a change from lying to standing causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate.
Symptoms may also include lightheadedness, blurry vision, trouble thinking, weakness, insomnia, headaches and digestive issues. The causes of POTS are not understood, but Hess pointed out that nothing structurally is wrong with her heart.
“It’s been a rough few years, but I feel like I’m on the upswing with things,” said Hess, who has been on the varsity squad since her freshman year. “I think I’m about 80 percent now. I still have days it’s tough to get out of bed, but I do see progress.”
Not being 100 percent is a scary thought for the rest of the Fox River Classic Conference and state, as Hess already has 16 goals in Bay Port’s first seven games. That includes three hat tricks to go along with her two assists.
In 74 career games, she has 65 goals and 15 assists for a whopping 145 points.
“I’ve had a good start to the season, but I feel a lot of it has just been me being in the right place at the right time,” said a smiling Hess. “My teammates have done a great job getting me some good passes – it’s made my job easier. We all get along well and that helps with our confidence. Last year I didn’t quite start this good.”
Like a lot of successful athletes, Hess has self-doubt when it comes to her ability, but that makes her work harder than most to make sure she performs to the best of her ability under the difficult circumstances.
“Erika has dealt with a lot,” said Bay Port head coach Brooke Mraz. “During the last few seasons she has played through it, but you could tell that she wasn’t feeling 100 percent. You wouldn’t necessarily know it with how well she has played. From last season to this season she is a dominant force on the field. It will be interesting to see where she ends up at the end of the year.”
The fact that she scored 24 goals last year in the Pirates’ run to the WIAA D1 state championship game is remarkable. Bay Port lost a 3-0 game to Brookfield Central, but still brought home the silver ball.
“Last year from a team standpoint was the most amazing thing – so far – I’ve experienced,” Hess said. “We’ve put last year in the past, but it’s definitely a goal to get back. It was a fun experience. I thought we had a good chance of doing something special last season, but I didn’t imagine it happening until we were actually in the championship game. Maybe some teams thought we were lucky to get there, but that made us want to work even harder this year.”
It was a long, hard journey for Hess trying to figure out why she was feeling sick for so long. She experienced fatigue in the morning, was sick and tired a lot, dealt with insomnia and headaches and had digestive issues.
Erika’s mother actually figured out she might have POTS and requested a test to confirm things.
Although she still experiences some of the symptoms, Hess feels her team has helped her tremendously through it all.
“My team has been my go-to,” she said. “It has helped me get through it because all my teammates have been so supportive and helpful. If I don’t make practice one day they know it’s because I’m just not feeling well. On the outside it may appear that I’m fine, but on the inside sometimes I still don’t feel well. My coaches have helped me, too.”
Hess started taking online classes at Bay Port the second semester of her junior year and still does, but she also comes to the school for a class as well.
“I pretty much made it through my sophomore year okay, but the POTS really hit during my junior year,” she said. “It wasn’t until last summer in August that I was diagnosed.”
After the test confirmed things, Hess traveled to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, but nothing seemed to help.
Eventually this past January she went to Dallas, Texas, for treatment. When Hess got there she was told she was a 10 out of 10 with how bad her case was, but upon leaving she felt significantly better.
“Traveling to Texas helped a lot,” she said. “As long as I keep up on my treatment – taking my medicine – it helps keep my blood pressure up and helps my digestion. I also have to work on breathing techniques with a computer program – it’s been helping. It seems like I’m in ‘fight or flight’ mode a lot, so I have to train my body to stay in a calmer state.”
Hess noted that during testing her blood pressure dropped to 58 over 38 and within 10 minutes after standing up from the test, her heart rate increased 60 beats per minute.
Hess will play college soccer at Division III Carroll University in Waukesha and will study nursing. Her Bay Port teammate Sofia Draghicchio will be her roommate and will also play soccer.
“When I was younger my goal was always to get a scholarship to play D1 soccer,” she said. “As I have grown up, I just want to enjoy – I’ve been playing for so long – college and not have everything about soccer. I want to meet new people and play D3 – it’s a little more laid back and not so demanding but still competitive. If anything else comes along I’d probably turn it down. I’m happy with my decision.”