Noelle Lambert’s path to making the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field team for the upcoming Tokyo games began on a lacrosse field.
Lambert, who grew up in Londonderry and now lives in Manchester, had her left leg amputated above the knee after a moped accident on Martha’s Vineyard in 2016 during the summer after her freshman year at UMass Lowell.
In her first game after the accident, Lambert scored for the River Hawks women’s lacrosse team in its 16-1 America East Conference win over Hartford on April 7, 2018. That moment caught the attention of the people at U.S. Paralympics Track and Field.
“The game I returned back again, someone from the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team reached out and asked if I had thought about pursuing the sport,” Lambert said. “It seemed like an amazing opportunity to represent my country, see if it was something I could do. ... It was something I could strive for.”
Now, two years after she ended her lacrosse career and began running track, Lambert will represent the United States in the 100-meter run at the Tokyo Paralympic games. The Londonderry High School graduate will compete in the T63 (above-the-knee amputee) division at the games, which will be held Aug. 24-Sept. 5 and aired on NBC.
Lambert started her track training on her own after graduating from UMass Lowell in 2019 and made her competitive debut at the Desert Challenge Games in Arizona that year. To her surprise, Lambert won the 100-meter run in a field that included the then-reigning national champion in the event and earned her place on the national team in the process.
“I was extremely nervous but competing against people with two legs for two years prepared me for that moment,” Lambert said of the Desert Challenge Games. “I beat the national champion and met the qualifying times to be part of the national team. I wasn’t anticipating that at all. I thought if I can do this with no proper training, I should be able to do a lot better with a proper coach.”
Lambert also met 2016 Paralympian Femita Ayanbeku, who is from Attleboro, Mass., at the desert games and has trained alongside her under the tutelage of coach Sherman Hart, a Randolph, Mass., resident ever since.
Lambert, who logged 16 goals and six assists for UMass Lowell and played soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Londonderry High, said she enters each practice motivated because there is always something new to improve on.
“I like going into track practice a lot more than lacrosse,” Lambert said. “I know what I’m getting myself into. With lacrosse, you never knew what was going to happen. I kind of know I’m getting my butt kicked at track. I know it’s all in my control and to focus on the things I need to worry about.”
Lambert practices five to six times a week with Hart and Ayanbeku in Boston and lifts two to three times a week.
During April, May and June of last year, Lambert worked with Hart remotely due to the pandemic. Lambert trained at Manchester West’s track following the weekly workout plan Hart sent her and recorded herself running so Hart could critique her form.
“I know a lot of athletes struggled even getting on a track,” Lambert said. “I used my time well, took a bad situation and made something out of it. ... There were only a couple months on my own then we were able to go to different tracks and maintain good social distancing.”
Lambert said she always performs better when Hart is there and is grateful she gets to train with an experienced athlete like Ayanbeku, who will compete in the 100-meter run in the T64 division (below-the-knee amputee) in Tokyo.
“To have her in my corner with her experience and everything she’s gone through, it makes me think of how I need to be,” Lambert said of Ayanbeku. “Getting to practice with her, it’s something where I’m looking at where I want to be — be where she is.”
Lambert qualified for the Paralympics by winning the 100-meter run in her division at the U.S. Paralympic team trials in Minneapolis on June 18 with her time of 16.33 seconds.
Lambert said she had one of her best starts to a race in her career at the team trials, an area she has struggled with since beginning the sport.
Lambert, who said she has run faster times in practice, is focused on perfecting her form and maintaining her speed throughout the entire race as she prepares for the Paralympic games.
“I’m truly grateful for all my hard work finally paying off,” Lambert said. “To go there and represent my country and compete alongside the best in the world, I always say that’s a gold medal in itself.”