For This UMass Lowell River Hawk, Losing a Leg Wasn’t the End -- It Was a New Beginning
LOWELL -- Noelle Lambert doesn’t view herself as a handicapped athlete. Lambert lost her left leg in a moped accident, which also involved her UMass Lowell teammate, Kelly Moran, on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 2016. But Lambert never lost her competitive spirit when it came to the goal of re-joining her teammates on the River Hawks’ women’s lacrosse team on the field during a game.
At first, Lambert, a junior attack, worried she wouldn’t be able to continue doing the thing she loved most -- running around and creating goals on the go while playing lacrosse with her best friends. Lambert’s upbeat personality and positive outlook helped her smile through the pain while rehabbing her body, mind and soul in the months following the accident.
“I don’t look at this as a handicap, not anymore,” Lambert, a native of Londonderry, N.H., said during a break from practice at UML’s Cushing Field on Monday. “I don’t think about it twice anymore. I’m in better shape now than when I had two legs. Having this happen to me really did open my eyes about a lot of different things. Now when I think about the accident I don’t think about it as something that’s depressing. I really think it changed my life for the better.
“It brought all these amazing people into my life. I have amazing teammates. I have amazing coaches. My family has been amazing. I am going to have an incredible bond with everyone (involved in my recovery) for the rest of my life. Really, the people around me are the reason I’ve been able to reach this point.”
Incredibly, Lambert, who now plays with a prosthetic limb, has reached the point in her recovery where she is back producing points on the field for the River Hawks. Lambert had a moment in the sun that neither she, nor anyone associated with UMass Lowell’s women’s lacrosse program, will ever forget on Saturday. In her first game back since losing her leg, Lambert scored a goal in UMass Lowell’s 16-1 victory over the University of Hartford.
“That was the best goal ever,” said Lambert, who is majoring in criminal justice. “It was special just to have my whole team sprint out to hug me. I broke down in tears. To see the video of them jumping for joy. It can’t not bring tears to your eyes, seeing how happy they were for me.
“I’m not where I want to be right now. I’m really not even close to being all the way back. But just to have that feeling of being back on the field was really special. It was really a relief off my shoulders. Now that I did this, I can go to the next step in hopes of getting better every single day.”
Lambert, whose leg as amputated above the knee, started all 17 games for UMass Lowell as a freshman in the spring of 2016. She tied for the team lead with 15 goals and was second in points with 21.
She remained conscious throughout the accident. Lambert is thankful bystanders at the scene were quick to react, including one driver, who wasn’t involved the crash, getting out of his car and using his shirt as a tourniquet until emergency responders arrived.
“When the accident happened I looked down at my leg and the first thing I thought of was lacrosse,” said Lambert. “I was telling the people who were helping me, my life is lacrosse. I don’t know what I’m doing to do. They were like, ‘No, you’ll be fine.’ But I’m thinking my life is over. I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do now.”
What she has done is defy the odds by returning to play the sport she loves at the Division 1 level.
“When I first walked into the hospital room to visit with her the first thing she asked was, ‘Am I still on the team?’” said UMass Lowell women’s coach Carissa Medeiros. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? You are the team.’
“At first, I thought she’d be part of the team, but in a different capacity. It wasn’t until weeks, leading into months, where you could see that she had every intention of getting physically back on the field and playing. That’s when my mindset shifted, too. I had to support her in whatever goal she set for herself. There was no time line set. She really has exceeded my expectations physically. It’s a real pleasure to coach her. And it’s such an honor to coach a team that is rallying around her.”
Moran, a junior midfielder from Newfields, N.H., was riding on the back of the bike when Lambert lost control and hit the side of a truck. She suffered a serious laceration on her hamstring and tore several tendons in her ankle and knee. After sitting out last season, Moran has played in all 12 games this season, coming up with 11 groundballs while creating five turnovers. Lambert and Moran are roommates. They both earned berths on the America East All-Rookie Team as freshmen in 2016.
“She’s so inspirational to everyone,” said Moran. “I feel like a lot of people in her situation would have hung it up. The fact she has realized the goals she set for herself and been able to grind through, even if she’s having a bad day, kind of gives us something to play for.
“From the beginning Noelle wanted to be held to the same standard as everyone else,” Moran continued. She didn’t just want to come back out just to make an appearance in the game. She wanted to be a contributor on some level and be an impact player. Even if she’s not that same type of player she was before, I think she had her mind set on coming out and being helpful to the team in some way or another.”
Lambert is quick to credit the role her parents, Judy and Geoffrey, and brothers, Ryan, Justin and Alex, have played in her recovery. Her uncle, Vincent Lambert, a double-amputee, also served as a source inspiration and guidance.
“I’ve been in the sports business a long time,” said UMass Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner. “The victories are a reason to celebrate. The losses motivate you. And along the way you hope to be inspired. It’s nice when that can happen without wins and losses. She has been such an inspiration to the whole campus and young people everywhere.”
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi