Noelle Lambert has always been a top-tier competitor on the lacrosse field.
Growing up in New Hampshire, Lambert began playing lacrosse in the eighth grade, and played on one of the most competitive club teams in the northeast: Granite State Elite.
During her sophomore year of high school, she heard about the emergence of a new Division I lacrosse program at University of Massachusetts Lowell, where she ultimately decided to extend both her academic and athletic careers.
Lambert played attack at UMass and was the team’s leading scorer, starting in all 17 of their games during her freshman campaign in 2015. Coming into her sophomore season, she was on pace for another spectacular season but was injured in a moped crash during the summer. Lambert and the rest of her team had no idea if she’d be able to play lacrosse again.
Lambert’s left leg was mangled after a crash with an oncoming dump truck while on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. After she arrived at the hospital, doctors decided the best move of action was to amputate it above the knee.
Her injury was so severe that possible complications could prevent her from standing again, let alone walking or running. She faced years of rehab and the possibility that some motor skills could never fully be regained. But she was ready to get back on the lacrosse field and pick right back up where she left off before her accident.
“I often say that I’m grateful for my accident and how I now view it as such a positive because it changed my whole outlook on life,” Lambert said. “It changed the type of teammate I was, the type of athlete I was, and it also changed the type of person I was.”
Miraculously, 18 months after her injury, Lambert stepped on the field just before the end of the first half in the Riverhawks game against the University of Hartford in 2018.
“I knew returning to play lacrosse that I would have to work 10 times harder than everyone else because I had one less leg. Rehab was very important to me. I knew what I was going to need to learn to walk and run again and I needed to take it seriously.”
With about 40 seconds on the clock, Lambert emerged out of a cluster of picks at the top of the eight-meter arc. She caught a pass from a teammate behind the goal, and quickly caught and released the ball past Hartford’s goalie and into the back of the net.
Her story took the world by storm, catching the attention of news and media outlets across the country. The comeback story of the century; the girl who lost her leg in an accident 18 months ago, just scored a goal in her first game back on the field. Through the culmination of hard work and determination, Lambert turned into a beacon of inspiration, showing everyone that anything is possible.
Lambert graduated from UMass Lowell in 2019, and after graduation took on a new path, training for the Paralympics and working to earn a spot on their Paralympic Track and Field Team. She competed in Dubai at the World Championships, where she placed fourth and set a record in the 100-meter dash.
“It was very weird. Growing up, I was always involved with team sports. I had never been a part of an individual sport, so I knew that during practice, I really needed to focus on a lot more of the mental aspect of the game,” she said of her transitioning to a different sport. “Track practice is a lot different than lacrosse practice. Lacrosse practice is all about endurance and how many reps you can get done. Track is more about taking your time and making sure you’re fully rested before each sprint.”
She said it’s an honor to don the red, white and blue, and she will forever cherish it, as she awaits the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
As for the future, Lambert not only plans to continue to train on the track, but also work for her non-profit organization, The Born To Run Foundation, which helps provide prosthetics to children and young adults.
“I’m starting off with kids who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through,” she said of the foundation. “Nobody realizes how expensive prosthetics are. I’ve been really lucky; I’ve had a couple foundations help me. We will help kids as well as adults that have to navigate through this new phase of life.”
Mackenzie Meaney is a contributor for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.