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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Miscik

Noelle Lambert: Track Athlete, Paralympian, Survivor

“I never thought I would become a track and field athlete. I just didn’t like running to begin with. I never understood it.”

Track and field athlete Noelle Lambert’s journey to becoming a record-setting Paralympian is an unlikely one. 

She played three varsity sports in high school before playing Division 1 lacrosse for the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She lost her leg when she was 19 years old in a moped accident. It was a devastating blow for the naturally competitive athlete.

Her competitiveness and drive created a fire in her to play again. After two years of rehab, she finally stepped back on the lacrosse field. She became the first above-the-knee amputee to play D1 lacrosse.

During her senior year, Lambert was at a crossroads. Sports was her whole world, but there was no viable way to continue playing lacrosse after college. Luckily for Lambert, a message from the Paralympic track and field team arrived, asking if she had ever thought about pursuing track professionally. 

It [the invitation] was definitely something that kind of fell into my lap… During lacrosse practices, track and field would be going on and having their practices, and I just would never understand the joy of it. But I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to represent my country. I just told myself, 'it’s just 100 meters, it’s just sprinting in a straight line, it shouldn’t be that difficult. Why not give it a chance?'

Despite her initial reluctance, the opportunity was too intriguing to pass up. Running track was the perfect way to continue her athletic career. Her decision to take a leap of faith ended up being the right one: “The first day I fell in love with it. It looks like a simple sport, but it’s not. There’s new things you can work on every single day.”

Only months after starting track, Lambert qualified for the United States Paralympic Team. She represented the United States at the 2019 World Para Athletic Championships in Dubai. Lambert placed fourth in the 100m and set a new American record. 

Noelle posted at the start on the  track
Lambert at the U.S. Paralympic Track Trials

Lambert only had “seven or eight” track meets under her belt before going to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021. While many athletes were frustrated by the pandemic pushing the Games back, Lambert saw it as a “blessing in disguise.” It was another year to gain confidence and become more comfortable with the sport she picked up less than a year prior.

I was just excited to be able to represent my country. I knew it was going to be very challenging to pave a way and medal in my first Paralympic Games with very little experience. I was just trying to go out there and do the best that I could and break my own personal records.

While Lambert didn’t medal in Tokyo, she still made history. She placed sixth and broke her own American record time in the 100m. While no spectators were allowed due to pandemic restrictions, the Lambert family got to cheer Noelle on virtually as she crossed the finish line.

During the Games, Lambert received an unexpected Instagram direct message. The head of casting for Survivor wanted to know if she had ever considered applying for the show. Lambert, a fan of the show since she was 10 years old, thought the message was fake. Once she realized it was real, she was energized by the opportunity. She had previously thought she could never play Survivor, but the interest from casting gave her the “kick in the butt” she needed to say yes to another adventure.

She was cast on season 43 of the long-running reality show. The game was extremely different from her life as a professional athlete.

“Before I started every single new adventure, whether it was track, snowboarding, or returning to the lacrosse field, I had a community of people behind me,” said Lambert. “I was never alone. Going out and doing Survivor, I was completely alone.”

Lamber mid air jumping with her arms out into the ocean
Lambert jumping into the ocean during a survivor challenge

Lambert ended up placing eighth on the season and becoming a part of the jury to decide the winner of the game. While it was a difficult experience initially, she built lasting relationships with her fellow castaways. “I always say I went out there by myself, but I left with a family.”

Lambert credits Survivor with increasing her mental fortitude. “Every time I have a tough day of practice, I try to go back to those moments when I’m sitting on the island and just thinking, ‘oh my god, I feel like I’m gonna die ‘cause I need to eat something.’ 

She even recruited fellow castaway Ryan Medrano to the US Para Track organization. Medrano, who has mild cerebral palsy, ended up qualifying for the 2024 Paris Paralympics in large part due to Lambert’s encouragement.

After Survivor, Lambert went back to the track. In 2023 her results plateaued and she didn’t qualify for the World Championship team. “I was kind of at a crossroads, where I needed to change some things up, or call it a career. [...] The sport wasn’t fun for me anymore.”

She began training with prominent Para track and field coach Kris Mack to improve her sprint. He convinced her to think about becoming a long jump athlete, something she long avoided.

Track athletes in Lambert’s Paralympic classification often competed in the 100m sprint and long jump, but she was never interested in adding long jump. “I just never really understood people jumping off of their blades. It kind of scared me a little bit.”

As part of the shakeup to her training routine, Lambert decided to try the long jump. Coach Mack believed she could be in medal contention if she “took it seriously.” This belief was what sold her on finally trying the event. There was one catch, though: she had to move to California from her native Boston to train with Mack full-time.

Lambert decided to jump in the deep end and move her entire life across the country. “It has been an incredible experience so far. I’m learning every single week, I’m learning a lot of different things, and I solely give the credit to Coach Mack.”

Lambert broke the American women’s T63 long jump record at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships after less than three months of preparation. She’s now consistently hitting the 5-meter mark in her jumps after only five months, something few female athletes in her class have been able to do in their entire careers.

Lambert with her arms swinging as she runs off the start
Lambert running off the start

“I’ve fallen in love with the sport again. It just gets me more and more excited.”

Off the track, Lambert is passionate about helping her community. She founded the Born to Run Foundation to give other amputees the same access she had to life-changing prosthetic devices that they would likely not be able to afford on their own.

“I was that one amputee, just waiting for a foundation to donate a specialized prosthetic to me, and when I received that prosthetic, it was like I had the whole world in my hands.”

So far the Born to Run Foundation has donated prosthetic devices to 27 different recipients across the United States.

Lambert’s career so far can be summarized by one idea: taking chances. Whether it was deciding to take up track and field, moving across the country, or picking up an event that scared her, Lambert’s ability to back herself in any situation is worth its weight in gold.


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