MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - JUNE 16: United States Paralympic Athlete Noelle Lambert poses for a portrait during a practice session ahead of the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials at Breck High School on June 16, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Noelle Lambert, “Survivor” Star, Speaks in Balch Auditorium


Charlotte Korer ’27
Staff Writer

Noelle Lambert gave a talk on Feb. 13 as part of the Scripps Presents event series to share her story as an amputee. She is most well known as a U.S. Paralympian and as a contestant from Season 43 of Survivor. Her ability to not only keep up but also succeed in challenges made her a fan favorite and she managed to do it all with just one leg. 

Lambert began her talk explaining her moped accident in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 2016. At the time, she had just finished her first year at The University of Massachusetts Lowell. She was a committed athlete, teammate, and the star player of her Division I women’s lacrosse team. 

Lambert’s head coach came to visit her in the hospital, “And I don’t think she took two steps in the door before I could ask ‘okay, what do I have to do to get back on the field?’” Lambert said. “What do I have to do to play? Because this cannot be it. I will not allow this to be the rest of my story.” 

Determination was not the only emotion Lambert felt. She was overwhelmed by sadness, grief, and hopelessness. That’s when some of the Boston Marathon survivors reached out to her and showed her all the different kinds of sports prosthetics available. 

“So I woke up the next day and thought to myself, ‘I do not want to let this one accident define the rest of my life and define the person that I wanted to become,” Lambert said. “I’m going to return playing Division I lacrosse.’”

Newly out of the hospital, Lambert decided she couldn’t wait around the house for life to start again as her teammates returned for what would’ve been her sophomore season. 

“I think the best place for me to be recovering is with my teammates,” Lambert said. “And I want to show the support that they gave me when I was in the hospital. I didn’t even have a walking prosthetic yet and I was driving myself back and forth to school every single day to be at practice. I was also taking online classes so I didn’t get behind on my schoolwork. On top of doing physical therapy three to four times a week. I never had time to feel sorry for myself. And I never had time to go into a deep depression.”

Two and a half months after the accident, Lambert got her walking prosthetic. She hoped it would be a smooth transition from walking prosthetic, to running blade, and back on the field in no time. Lambert describes her disappointment in finding out that running blades cost anywhere between $10,000 to $30,000. 

“I’m 19 years old at the time — I don’t have this type of money,” Lambert reacalled. “I didn’t want to bankrupt my parents every single time I wanted a new and exciting leg. So I was sitting there thinking lacrosse is done … by the time I get a running prosthetic, I’m going to be graduating college.” 

She applied for as many nonprofit foundations that worked to provide prosthetics to amputees as she could, but it looked like it was going to be at least a six month wait. So, she became a student coach. 

Nine months after her accident, Lambert got her running prosthetic. However, her new leg was not the one-way ticket back to lacrosse she hoped it was. Lambert describes the discomfort and instability of her new leg. Running for more than 10 seconds hurt and she was close to quitting. 

“I remember going home, taking my legs off, throwing them on the ground, saying ‘I’m done, I quit,’” Lambert said. “It’s over. If I can’t even run in a straight line, how am I going to be able to play at one of the highest levels that you could play in for collegiate lacrosse?” 

But with the support of her family and team, she got back on her feet. She worked for the whole summer to get used to playing her favorite sport again with her new leg. During her junior season, Lambert was back in lacrosse playing as an amputee with able-bodied people like the accident never happened. But, Lambert decided something was missing. 

“I needed to give back all the support and helping hands that I received to portray a message out to the world that if I can go through something I went through and still live the life that I want, then 100% so can anybody else,” Lambert said. “With the help of my incredible family, I was able to start the Born to Run Foundation. And the foundation focuses on donating specialized prosthetics to entities in need.” 

Despite her achievements with Born to Run, Lambert was at a bit of a loss after her graduation in 2019. It was unclear to her what her next step in her athletic career was. That’s when the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team asked if she wanted to run a trial race, so Lambert and her mother flew to Arizona. She wasn’t much of a runner, she had no coach, and she was more nervous than ever before. 

“And when I landed, I realized that the entire U.S. Paralympic national track and field team was going to be there, all the head coaches, and that I was going to be competing against the reigning national champion,” Lambert said. “I looked at my mother and said, ‘Let’s go home. I’m done. I don’t want to do this.’” 

Little did she realize she had an advantage. Lambert had been competing with people with two legs for her entire college career and doing burpees whenever she fell behind. Lambert came first in her first race, beating the reigning national champion and securing a place on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field national team. 

In the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she placed sixth in the 100M and also broke her own American record. As a pastime, Lambert started snowboarding. She dove right into the deep end and competed in European competitions after only a month of practice, later placing at the World Championships. As of now, on top of training for the Paris 2024 Summer Paralympics Track and Field events, Lambert is also training for the Milan 2026 Winter Paralympic Games. 

The last thing Lambert wanted throughout her athletic career was to be treated like an outsider or less capable than those with two legs. “I didn’t pave the way the path of people believing in people with disabilities,” Lambert said. “But I think I started to make people realize not to judge people just based off of how they look.”

Lambert encouraged her audience to never give up and rely on their support systems. It does no one any good to bottle up their emotions in the aftermath of trauma. Lambert uses her reliance on her coaches to show that with the support of their community, people can go on to do great things. 

“[Losing a leg] was the first time in my life [that] I realized that mental health is so important,” Lambert said. “If you are ever going through a difficult time, you need to find that one person to rely on. After crying for about three to four hours, it finally like I felt like I could breathe. There was a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Photo Courtesy of The Boston Globe

Don't Miss