University of Southern California

USC Student Affairs and Campus Life

Samantha de Leve

Makes a Splash

By Cristy Lytal

Samantha de LevePhoto by Lillian InsalataSamantha de Leve

Samantha de Leve calls herself a “crazy-living urban person,” and with good reason. The August 2013 graduate of USC’s Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) program is a coloratura soprano, dancer and Paralympic hopeful who plans to swim for Team USA in Rio 2016.

The only child of a Dutch mother and an American father, de Leve grew up in Playa del Rey and West Hollywood. She speaks “een betje” Dutch, along with French, German, Italian, Spanish and American Sign Language. She began dancing at age two, and doing gymnastics and singing in church choir at around age four.

She was attending the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts when she started showing signs of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder with symptoms of overly stretchy ligaments and resulting joint instability and chronic pain.

“I had a cane and a bad attitude and everybody called me ‘House,’” she said.

Her curiosity about medicine only made the nickname stick more. Her mother is a professor who studies drug-induced liver disease at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and de Leve “can read a liver function test like I can read Homer,” she said. She has also worked in her mother’s lab and shadowed doctors during hospital rounds.

As an undergraduate at USC, de Leve double majored in music and philosophy. She was selected as both a Renaissance Scholar for pursuing majors in disparate fields, and as a Discovery Scholar for original contributions to her field — a performance of a new music commission experimenting with modern approaches to coloratura.

In April 2012, de Leve dislocated her hip and shoulder on the way to Passover Seder. Although she’d experienced hundreds of previous dislocations, this moment convinced her to get a wheelchair. “For me,” she explained, “it was liberation from dislocation and subluxation and — no more rhyming!”

As a master’s student at USC, she swam in the pool as part of an ordinary low-impact fitness routine, and quickly approached Paralympic times. That’s when she began training six days a week for the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and backstroke events with the Trojan Swim Club, a group of post-graduate Olympic and world champions.

“We swim in the same lane quite often, almost every day,” said Jessica Hardy, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and world record holder in breaststroke events. “She’s the kind of person who works hard when no one’s watching and pushes herself beyond what she thought her limitations were.”

After graduation, de Leve will spend a year or two working remotely from the Bay Area as a writing assistant for Professor Adam Knight Gilbert, director of the early music program at the USC Thornton School of Music, before going on to pursue her Ph.D.

In other words, she’s accomplished a lot by age 23.

“My life has to be front-loaded, because who knows what happens later?” she said. “I have to get everything in now. And if I get more time than I anticipated with my body working properly, then hey, I’ll be even more awesome!”