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Former UMass Lowell lacrosse star is now scoring her points as an elite Paralympic sprinter

After switching to track, Noelle Lambert created the Born to Run Foundation to assist other amputee athletes.Christian Petersen/Getty

In the summer of 2016, Noelle Lambert’s mother was on her way to a barbecue when she got a call from a number she didn’t recognize. The woman on the line was calling from a hospital.

“Your daughter has been in an accident,” the caller told Judy Lambert. “You and your husband need to get to Martha’s Vineyard right away. I don’t think she’s going to survive.”

From there, the worst day of her life, as she describes it, became a blur.

Noelle Lambert had been on Martha’s Vineyard with friends. She was driving a moped and crashed into an oncoming dump truck. The next thing she knew, she was lying in the street and watching a person carry her left leg in a towel.

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A man driving behind her fashioned a tourniquet with a shirt to stop the bleeding, which likely saved her life. She was rushed to Boston Medical Center, where she learned that her leg could not be reattached. Lambert had just finished her freshman year at UMass Lowell, where she was on a partial lacrosse scholarship.

“Sports was the biggest thing on my mind, because that was such a huge part of my life, and I thought that I was never going to be able to walk again, let alone pick up a lacrosse stick,” said Lambert, who is from Londonderry, N.H. “I really did think that I was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”

Lambert thought her life was over when she lost her leg, but it has changed in ways she never imagined.

Five years later, Lambert, 24, is the American record-holder in the 100-meter dash and will compete in Tokyo at the Paralympics, which begin Tuesday. She also helps amputees through her Born To Run Foundation.

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Just months before her accident, Lambert, a 5-foot-6-inch attacker in lacrosse, had been named to the America East All-Rookie Team. She started all 17 games for the River Hawks, led the team with 15 goals, and was second in assists.

As she lay in her bed at Boston Medical Center, she was wondering what was next when her coach, Carissa Medeiros, walked through the door. Medeiros reassured Lambert that the school would honor her scholarship and that her spot on the team would be waiting for her whenever she was ready.

“I felt relieved just knowing that I wasn’t alone in this,” she said.

Lambert was feeling hopeless, but her perspective changed when three survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing — Roseann Sdoia, Celeste Corcoran, and Karen McWatters — came to see her in the hospital. The three all lost limbs in the bombing, and they explained to Lambert that her injury did not mean that her life was over.

“After talking with them, I just knew I couldn’t feel sorry for myself anymore,” Lambert said. “I think it was at that moment that I just decided that I really didn’t want to let this accident define the person I wanted to become or prevent me from doing the things that I wanted to do with my life.”

Lambert competed in the Desert Challenge Games in Mesa, Ariz., in May of this year.Christian Petersen/Getty

Her focus shifted to getting back on the lacrosse field, but she needed a running plate for her prosthetic leg, and specialized prosthetics typically are not covered by insurance; they can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. Thanks to donations from organizations that help amputees, Lambert secured her running blade and a prosthetic that also lets her go into water.

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The experience made her want to help others in her position.

In 2018, she created the Born to Run Foundation, which helps amputees obtain specialized athletic prosthetic devices. The foundation has donated running blades, swimming legs, and athletic arms to amputees across the country.

“I just want to show people that just because something awful happens in your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re broken and that your life is over,” she said. “You can do whatever you put your mind to. I’m living proof of that.”

Eighteen months after her accident, Lambert returned to the lacrosse field in 2018 against the University of Hartford. She picked up right where she left off, scoring on just her third shot of the game. At the end of the season, she was named the inaugural recipient of the America East Inspiration Award.

“It was the best moment of my entire life,” Lambert said.

Lambert was the first above-knee amputee to play lacrosse at the college level. Her return to the field caught national attention, and the US Paralympic Track & Field team reached out to her.

Lambert had never run track before; in fact, she said she “hated” everything about running before her accident, so much that she preferred the treadmill over the track. Still, she always hoped that sports would be a part of her life, so she planned to give running a shot.

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After she graduated in May of 2019, she signed up for a track meet just two weeks later. She began training with Sherman Hart, who has coached track for 35 years at UMass Boston and Northeastern. Hart could tell on the first day that Lambert was unique, noting that she had the “it” factor.

Still, she had a long way to go when it came to her running mechanics.

“She’s probably the first athlete that I’ve ever had where within the first 10-15 minutes I had to stop and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Hart said with a laugh. “Because she had no form.”

Lambert took Hart’s critiques with a smile and applied her fighter mentality to the track. And she saw results quickly.

She defeated the reigning national champion in her first meet and qualified for the US Paralympic team. Lambert then competed at the World Championships in Dubai, where she placed fourth and set an American record in the T63 Division (above-the-knee amputee) with a 16.31-second time in the 100 meters. The world record for the women’s T63 100 meters, according to World Para Athletics, is 14.59.

Lambert (center) raised a toast to her Born to Run Foundation at the Boston Marathon finish line with fellow athletes Femita Ayanbeku (left) and David Hiler.

At the Paralympics, Round 1 of the T63 women’s 100 meters begins Sept. 4. Even with the 13-hour time difference, her mother says that the entire family and friends will watch together in New Hampshire. Hart will be watching, too, though he is hoping the race doesn’t cause him any stress.

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After competing in Tokyo, could a Winter Olympics appearance be next for Lambert? She began snowboarding last winter and has fallen in love with the sport, so much that she would snowboard on the weekends and then go through track practice with soreness.

“It’s definitely something I would love to try,” she said, “but I haven’t even told my coach yet that I want to maybe get into that after Tokyo. So we’ll see how that goes.”