N.H. Amputee Overcomes Quarantine To Run In Paralympics

NOELLE LAMBERT’S first Paralympic games tested her mentally as much as it did physically. Lambert, who grew up in Londonderry and now lives in Manchester, finished sixth on Saturday in the women’s T3 (above-the-knee amputee) 100-meter run in a U.S.-record time — but not before some trying experiences.

First, there was the 17-hour flight to Tokyo. Upon arrival, she took a COVID-19 test. After waiting three hours for her own result, a fellow Paralympian she traveled with had a result that turned out to be positive. So, as a close contact, Lambert was forced to spend her first week at the games in quarantine at a Tokyo hotel. She was tested twice a day while in quarantine and daily after she was cleared.

Lambert trained at the same facility as the rest of the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team but had to keep a 6-foot distance from everyone while in quarantine.

“The first week was tough on my mental state,” said Lambert, who had her left leg amputated above the knee after a moped accident on Martha’s Vineyard in 2016. “I just wanted to be in the (athletes’) village. I felt like I was completely alone. ... There was some adversity of just trying to stay motivated for the race and everything.”

Lambert, 24, said the athletes’ village was almost like a little city but she and her fellow Paralympians could only leave for practice or to compete in their events. The dining hall tables had clear Plexiglass shields that made them look like cubicles, she said.

Lambert, who began her track career two years after playing lacrosse at Londonderry High and UMass Lowell, also had to manage her anticipation. The women’s T63 100-meter run was the last track and field event of the games, with semifinal heats in the morning and the final later that afternoon.

Lambert had morning training sessions with Team USA coach Tony McCall — who also trained her at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai — then had the rest of the day to think about the race. “I really wanted to compete and I don’t want to say get it over with but I wanted it to be that day,” Lambert said. “I had more than enough time to get ready for my event and felt ready when the day came.”

Between her nerves about the event and preparing to leave Tokyo, Lambert slept about three hours the night before her race. She placed fourth in her semifinal heat with a time of 16.2 seconds. Feeling much more awake in the final, Lambert finished sixth with an American-record time of 15.97 seconds — her first career sub-16-second mark.

Italy’s Ambra Sabatini won in a world-record time of 14.11 seconds. Fellow Italians Martina Caironi (14.46) and Monica Graziana Contrafatto (14.73) rounded out the podium. The race took place during pouring rain with no fans allowed inside the National Olympic Stadium. After the race, Lambert hugged and congratulated her competitors and saw her family and friends back home on a monitor during an interview with NBC.

“I knew the chances of me medaling would be very difficult because the people that were ahead of me have been doing this a lot longer,” Lambert said. “Getting to compete alongside them was an amazing experience in itself. ... To be able to be sixth in the world, I’m extremely proud of myself. I’m 100% content with that. My biggest goal was to make the finals, make a PR (personal record) and break the American record.”

Content does not mean stagnant. Lambert has studied video from the final to see where she can improve and is already considering getting back on the track. The next big event she will be training for, the World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe, Japan, is next August. “I’m never satisfied,” Lambert said. “I look toward the future and what I can do better.”

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