When UMass-Lowell coach Carissa Medeiros first stepped foot in Boston Medical Center, her heart was heavy with emotion. She didn't know what to expect. She didn't know how to react.
Medeiros, who had received a devastating call from captain Courtney Barrett, entered a hospital room where rising sophomore Noelle Lambert was resting after her first surgery due to a moped accident July 30 on Martha's Vineyard. It was Lambert's first time driving a moped, but with uneven weight distribution, it proved to be too much to handle.
With teammate and roommate Kelly Moran riding on the back seat, Lambert lost control, veered left and hit the side of an oncoming dump truck at approximately 12:35 p.m. – and they remember everything. Bystanders were quick to react, calling 911 and making a makeshift tourniquet until emergency responders arrived on the scene.
Moran suffered lacerations on her right leg, tore ligaments in her foot and ankle, sprained her knee and had some road rash on her arms and legs. However, Lambert's left leg had to be amputated above the knee.
"I got to talk to my mom on the scene and I told her I'm OK. I probably said I was sorry a hundred times," said Lambert. "I was totally conscious. Lacrosse was one of the first things I thought about because I knew I lost my leg right on the scene. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to play again."
When Lambert's eyes met her coach's for the first time since the season ended, she stretched out her hand to squeeze hers. Still foggy from being under anesthesia, Lambert had just one question for Medeiros: "Am I still on the team?"
"It took all the strength I had in myself to keep it together," said Medeiros. "It took everything in me to not just break down in tears in front of her, but I didn't. I stayed strong. I said, 'Of course! You are the team."
Lambert and Moran, both New Hampshire natives who played club lacrosse for Granite State Elite, were coming off standout freshman campaigns for the River Hawks. They were both named to the America East All-Rookie Team as consistent contributors to the second-year Division I program, which went 1-16 in 2016.
Lambert, a Londonderry graduate who played soccer, basketball and lacrosse, tied for first on the team with 15 goals and was second in points (21) and assists (6), while also setting a program record for points in a single contest in her second game against Manhattan with four goals and an assist.
Moran, also a three-sport athlete at Exeter High School, starring in field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse, controlled a team-high 42 draws and added 12 points with a newfound role on offense as a defensive-minded midfielder.
After the traumatic event, Medeiros addressed the team "very delicately," assuring the River Hawks that their injuries were not life-threatening and they will get through this together as a family. The team, including the coaching staff, followed the cues of Lambert and Moran, who have been remarkably upbeat.
"I can't sit here and be sad for our team or sad for them when they have such high hopes and great spirits and just real fighting mentality that really doesn't give you an option to sit here and be glum about it," said Medeiros. "You never know how you're going to react to a traumatic experience until you're in that traumatic experience. I think both of them have been able to sit with it and decide that they're going to make lemonade out of lemons."
Having trained and played for a Division I program, the life skills developed with a team and athlete mentality have helped Lambert and Moran get through their physical challenges. Thinking back on their first seasons as River Hawks, Medeiros couldn't be more proud of the instant impact they made.
Moran, "a gamer," was an independent and determined workhorse, she said, who never asks for help when posed with a challenge, trying as many times as needed to succeed.
Lambert, "a showboater" driven by her personality, was the social butterfly with an outspoken and spirited character and a sense of humor that Medeiros thinks has only helped her cope with the severity of her injury. The UMass-Lowell coach will never forget her behind-the-back goals and post-game celebrations.
"[Noelle] is an example of somebody who's like the heartbeat of our team," Medeiros said. "There's a lot of heartache with losses and there's a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but there's also a lot of fun and a lot of joy of being part of a team and being part of a family and she embodies that entire concept. I think that that is another reason she's able to thrive through this because she's looking at it from a realistic, but also from a very healthy perspective."
While their first encounter just one day after the accident was filled with tears, following Moran's medical release from Martha's Vineyard Hospital, the young stars wouldn't allow anyone to cry.
"Our first interaction since the accident was emotional, but above all, I was so relieved she was OK. I think we both feel very lucky to be alive," said Moran, who expects to make a full recovery for the 2017 season. "I want to continue moving forward with my head up. While the circumstances are tough, I know it could've been a lot worse."
Lambert's next step is selecting a prosthetic company after testing at the K4 level during physical therapy. K-levels, which range from 0-4, are determined by a patient's ability to walk following a tragic incident. K0 indicates zero mobility and a prosthesis would not enhance their quality of life, while K4 means the patient has the ability to exceed basic movement with high energy levels, typical of the prosthetic demands for an athlete.
"Once I get my prosthetic, I want to be able to do all the sprints with the team. I want to be able to do everything with the team. I don't want to be missing out," said Lambert, who will take on a student-coach role in the spring. "They even said to me during physical therapy that I was doing well so quickly. They were surprised, but they knew I was an athlete."
After having 40 visitors each day at the hospital, from her teammates, family members, including her uncle Vincent Lambert, who is a double amputee due to complications with diabetes, and survivors of the Boston bombing with their service dogs, including Celeste Corcoran, Karen McWatters and Roseann Sdoia, Lambert, who returned home Thursday, is confident she will take the field again one day.
Despite phantom pains, she remains strong, completing at-home exercises on a daily basis and going to physical therapy at Catholic Medical Center in nearby Manchester, N.H., to ensure her hips stay straight. She also stays active with the goal of strengthening her arms and right leg.
Moran, who will also start physical therapy soon, has taken it upon herself to make Lambert her first priority as suitemates for the next school year.
"I know she has some tough days ahead of her, but I am going to be there to do what I can to help make this adjustment easier for her," said Moran. "No one knows Noelle's toughness like I do. I have played with her and against her. She and I are roommates and she is one of my closest friends.
"If there is anyone who can create something positive out of this, it will be Noelle."