On Wednesday, Bowdoin students gathered in Kresge Auditorium to hear Noelle Lambert speak about her life as a college and professional athlete after losing her leg in a moped accident after her first year at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Lambert went on to be a Paralympian and competitor on the reality TV show “Survivor.” But following her accident, Lambert did not think she would be able to continue her career as a student-athlete.
After undergoing physical therapy and receiving a running blade, she returned to practice alongside her team and eventually returned to the competition field. She continued her career as a Paralympian competing in track and field after college, making her debut on the national stage at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Lambert hopes that her talk inspired students to face life’s challenges with confidence.
“Being a student-athlete, it’s like having a job in college and juggling a million different things at once,” Lambert said. “Realize that everything you’re learning now … will help prepare you for when you graduate college, even if it has nothing to do with athletics.”
Because she was 19 at the time of her accident, Lambert finds meaning in using her story to connect to college students.
“I had to figure my whole life out once again. Those difficult moments … will make you the person that you will become,” Lambert said. “Even if it’s somebody [who] isn’t an athlete or doesn’t do sports, you can take my message and relate it to anything with your life.”
Lambert faced challenges when returning to athletics after her accident, including the cost of specialized prosthetics. Insurance companies will not cover specialized prosthetics such as running blades, and only cover everyday walking prosthetics.
“I was sitting there at 19 years old thinking, ‘Okay, I don’t have this type of money. How am I supposed to pay for a running blade when they can cost anywhere from ten to 20,000 dollars?’ And that’s when I learned about all these amazing foundations out there that support [people] like myself,” Lambert said.
After receiving three donations of specialized prosthetics, Lambert wanted to give back. She started a nonprofit called The Born to Run Foundation that donates specialized prosthetics to those who need them. The foundation has donated around 28 prosthetics so far.
“I had my family helping me [during] my senior year of college, and we were able to donate our first running blade to a little three-year-old boy,” Lambert said. “It was very inspiring and motivating. I just wanted to continue to grow it, so I was very lucky that I have such an incredible family to help me do that.”
Though Lambert played lacrosse in high school and college, she transitioned to running track and field after the accident.
“I was only running [for] about two years, and that’s when someone from the U.S. track and field world reached out to me and asked me if I’ve ever thought about competing.… I’ve never competed in an individual sport before, so I kind of viewed it as a great opportunity to represent my country at something that I’d be good at,” Lambert said. “So I kind of just dove right in, and luckily me being an athlete and having that background, I was able to adjust and adapt, and I fell in love with a completely different sport.”
Even though Lambert no longer competes in lacrosse, she still applies those skills to her track competitions.
“I’m still taking all the lessons I’ve learned from my previous coaches and putting it into my practice routine,” Lambert said.
Lambert also reflected on deciding to compete on season 43 of “Survivor” in 2022.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t do this, who is going to do this? Who is going to show that positive representation for the amputee community? This is my chance to show the world what we are capable of,’” she said.
After years as a Paralympian, Lambert believes that dedication and perseverance is essential to succeeding both on and off the field.
“Just live in the moment and always apply yourself 100 percent, because you truly never know if today’s going to be the last practice or tomorrow is gonna be the last game,” Lambert said. “It goes by in the blink of an eye and then you’re out in the real world.”