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Inspirational Athlete Lost a Leg, but Found a Purpose

Noelle Lambert's Born to Run Foundation Raises Money for Prostheses

Runner and UML alum Noelle Lambert mid-stride.
Former UMass Lowell lacrosse player Noelle Lambert is shown training. After losing her left leg in a 2016 accident, Lambert hasn’t let her disability slow her down. She’s a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team.

10/31/2020
Lowell Sun
By Barry Scanlon

(To vote for Lambert in the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth event, go to www.WomenofWorth.com. Voting ends Nov. 27.)
LOWELL – She lost her left leg in a tragic accident.

But not her indomitable spirit.

“My accident was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Noelle Lambert says.

It’s a stunning statement. Then again, the 23-year-old Lambert, a UMass Lowell graduate, is a special person.

While in college, the Londonderry, N.H., native started the Born to Run Foundation on a determined mission to donate specialized athletic prostheses to amputees so they can live fulfilling lives. The foundation made its 10th prosthesis donation Friday, earning world-wide acclaim in the process.

Lambert was recently named one of the 10 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth. L’Oreal donated $10,000 to the Born to Run Foundation. If Lambert wins an online voting program, her foundation will receive $25,000 more from L’Oreal.

“To me, she’s a true inspiration. She epitomizes the notion that if you want to make yourself feel better, make others feel better,” said Peter Casey, UMass Lowell’s director of athletics. “When she sets her mind to something, there’s no stopping her.”

Lambert lost her leg following a 2016 accident on Martha’s Vineyard. Lacrosse teammate Kelly Moran was a passenger on a moped Lambert was operating when the moped struck a dump truck. Both suffered serious injuries.

Lambert said the accident gave her life a purpose, a direction.

“I wanted to help the amputee world. I wanted them to feel like they’re going into a family,” she said.

Foundations helped her attain two prosthetic legs. She wanted to give back. In 2018, with the support of her family and friends, she started the Born to Run Foundation. That December, her senior campaign at UML, the foundation made its first donation.

“When I look back at the accident, I don’t even view it as a negative. I view it as a positive. It makes me know what’s important in my life. It puts things into perspective,” she said.

She said the accident “has made me a better athlete, a better teammate, a better daughter and a better friend. It has given me the opportunity to help young amputees see an active future for themselves.”

Inspiring others

David Hiler has run four marathons, including the 2015 and 2016 Boston Marathons, and was an avid snowboarder.

“As a runner, it’s not just about getting exercise,” he said. “It’s my release. It’s my thinking place. It’s a precious time.”

But Hiler lost his left leg above the knee in January after a bout with cancer. Hiler couldn’t bear the thought of not running. Then the 55-year-old Brattleboro, Vt., resident met Lambert and learned of her foundation.

Lambert presented Hiler with a running blade Friday. To commemorate the event, the pair were scheduled to run over the Connecticut River across a bridge which links New Hampshire and Vermont.

“When you meet someone like that, it’s so inspiring. It’s infectious. You want to be a part of that,” Hiler said.

Hiler wants to run again. Perhaps run another marathon. The co-founder of Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery in Brattleboro, Hiler said a special craft beer called B2R brew will be sold at the brewery. Proceeds will go to Lambert’s foundation.

Insurance covered his prosthetic leg, but not his running blade. Running blades can cost from $10,000 to $50,000.

“This is kind of a miracle,” Hiler said.

Next month, the Born to Run Foundation will present a prosthetic arm to a 31-year-old New Jersey man. Among the other recipients was a 17-year-old athlete from Knoxville, Tenn., who received a swimming prosthesis earlier this year.

If all goes well, especially if the foundation earns the additional $25,000 from L’Oreal, a few more people will benefit.

Judy Lambert is a member of the foundation’s board of directors. She’s also Noelle’s mother.

“She’s taken something that could have been very negative and turned it into something positive,” she said of her daughter. “She’s always been very stubborn. She doesn’t take no for an answer. She never has. If you told her she couldn’t do something, she wanted to do it even more.”

Judy Lambert said her husband, Geoffrey, also has a stubborn nature, something that may have fueled Noelle after the accident.

Storybook goal

Lambert was determined to return to UMass Lowell following the accident. She also wanted to continue to play lacrosse.

She burst onto the scene as a freshman. The 5-foot-6 attack tied for the team lead in goals with 15. Her injury forced her to miss her entire sophomore season. The NCAA cleared her to play with her prosthetic leg halfway through her junior season.

She made a dramatic return to the field in an April 7, 2018, home game against the University of Hartford.

With 30 friends and family in attendance in Lowell, Lambert made national headlines when she took a pass from behind the Hartford net and wasted no time flicking the ball into the cage for a storybook goal. Her teammates mobbed her like they had just won the national championship.

“The whole athletic department believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. “Obviously it was one of the best moments of my life. The reaction I got from (teammates) … I remember breaking down.”

It’s one of the top athletic moments in UML’s history.

“Watching her dedication to overcoming such a huge obstacle with grace and determination was inspiring to us all. Seeing those efforts culminate with a goal in her first game back was like watching something out of one of the great sports movies,” Casey said. “You can’t script it any better.”

Lambert continued her lacrosse career as a senior, starting one game, and graduated from UMass Lowell in 2019, right on schedule, with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

“Noelle’s impact on our university went far beyond the field of play. Her resiliency from the time of the accident was truly remarkable,” Casey said.

Lambert and her mother praised UMass Lowell for its support.

“They’ve been so wonderful. They really, really stood behind her. We can’t thank them enough,” Judy Lambert said.

Noelle Lambert said emails from Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney were especially inspiring.

Running to glory

These days Lambert is plenty busy. She devotes much of her energy to her foundation. She also coaches lacrosse at Granite State Elite, her former club team. Also, she spends several hours of most days training.

The high school three-sport athlete who became a Division 1 college lacrosse player has a confession. Prior to her accident, she hated to run.

Today she is a member of the U.S. Paralympic team training for the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo. On Nov. 13, 2019, running with a blade on her left leg, she set a U.S. record at the World Paralympic Championship games in Dubai. She covered 100 meters in 16.31 seconds, finishing fourth in the world.

“It was my first time ever representing the United States. I was competing against the best in the world. That was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I honestly blacked out during the race,” she said with a laugh.

Following the race, with tears in her eyes, she embraced her friend, mentor and U.S. teammate Femita Ayanbeku.

“She’s like my big sister,” Lambert said of the highly decorated Paralympic athlete.

In her first race, one month after graduating from UML, Lambert shocked many, including herself, by defeating the United States champion at 100 meters.

Lambert has never backed down from a challenge, the bi-product of growing up with three older brothers, Ryan, Justin and Alex.

While she enjoys training, her full-time job is to promote the Born to Run Foundation. Getting recognized by L’Oreal and receiving $10,000 came at a perfect time since the coronavirus pandemic stopped fund-raising cold.

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about the exposure,” Lambert said.
(To vote for Lambert in the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth event, go to www.WomenofWorth.com. Voting ends Nov. 27.)