Running Down Her Dreams, With Stops Along the Way
Issue   |   Fri, 05/24/2013 - 13:29

Keri Lambert is an amazingly talented person, and don’t let her convince you otherwise. An All-American runner who is currently the national champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Lambert has managed to excel in both her athletics and academics, graduating a History major with a focus in African environmental history. With an inexhaustible curiosity, a love for inspirational quotes and a propensity for pranks, Lambert is situated to gracefully and quietly take over the world, which can only be a good thing for the rest of us.

Born to Run

Born “right up the street” at Cooley Dickinson Hospital on July 18, 1991, Keri Grace Lambert was a spunky, mischievous, tenacious little girl, who never who never saw limits to what she was capable of doing. Growing up just a few miles from campus, Keri was constantly outdoors hiking, swimming, fishing, climbing trees and chasing after her two older brothers.

“The summer she turned four, I remember being on the public beach in Megansett, North Falmouth,” recalled her mother Janet Cremins. “The swimming lesson for boys aged 6-8 began on the first day with a race across the beach and Keri’s two older brothers were in the race. Undaunted that she was too young, and that she was a girl, Keri lined up among the boys and ran her heart out.”

Besides following her brothers’ footsteps into nearly every sport imaginable, Lambert’s has always been known for her offbeat humor and love of pranks.

“Keri has always been a massive prankster, the kind who made you terrified to be the first one asleep if she was at a birthday party sleepover for fear of waking up covered in pretzels or sharpie or who knows what,” said her life-long friend Amelia Quinn.

Lambert admits to being a sort of menace as a child.

“I was crazy. All through elementary school all of my report cards comments were along the lines of ‘a distraction to classmates, a pleasure to have in class.’ Basically I was a very, very hyperactive child that you could not slow down, from soccer fields to tearing through books way too quickly,” Lambert said.

Her brother said Lambert always had her own sense of humor and way of looking at the world.

“Her sense of humor clearly comes from outer space,” Tim Lambert teased. “She loves fake accents, but hers bear no resemblance to the way people talk, or ever have talked, in any part of the world. They are also all exactly the same.”

By the time she entered middle school, Lambert and her heinous “soft mullet” hairstyle were already very involved in ice hockey (her favorite sport), soccer and softball; she soon added cross country running and eventually Ultimate Frisbee to the mix. As she moved onto Amherst Regional High School, she became passionate about Latin and reading and began branching out into different subjects, taking drama and acting classes and even a steel drum class. Somehow she managed to balance all of her sports and some of the hardest academics her school had to offer, winning Most Athletic and being named valedictorian her senior year.

“I began to realize more and more throughout high school that I really like being really busy. I did way too much in high school. I threw myself into everything,” Lambert said. “I realized that I really like pushing boundaries and branching out.”

Though Lambert grew up touring the Amherst College buildings that her father, a carpenter who helped work on buildings like the Beneski Museum of Natural History, Mayo Smith Dormitory and Hitchcock House, she grew up wanting to go to Williams to play hockey. But as her running improved and she shifted towards racing, she began to consider other options.

“I think it’s hard to grow up in a college town and not compare every college you visit to the one that is in your backyard, especially when it’s as beautiful as Amherst,” Lambert said. “But then when I was looking at colleges, I started to realize just how awesome the college that was just three miles up the road was. Open curriculum, beautiful campus, small liberal arts school, NESCACs.”

Eventually it came down to Williams and Amherst.

“I was so close to choosing Williams, the deposit check was made out and I was about to drop it off in the mailbox,” Lambert said. “I just went back inside and emailed the Amherst cross country coach to say ‘hey can I come by for a day of tours?’ I came by, it was one of those beautiful spring days that we all know so well at Amherst, and went to a couple of classes. It just felt right.”

Discovering the Past

Following her high school precedent, Lambert plunged into Amherst’s open curriculum, taking classes in subjects ranging from Latin to geology. However, it was her first-year seminar, Drugs in History, that made a lasting impression.

“If you had asked me if there was any chance that I would be studying African environmental history in 12th grade I would have said ‘what are you talking about? You’re absolutely insane,’” Lambert said. “But when I got to Amherst my first-year seminar was a history course, which was a subject that I didn’t really like in high school. I found studying history in college to be very different from studying history in high school, where you study from the textbook, whereas here you read primary sources and original material. You read arguments instead of just facts. Through Drugs in History I realized history had a lot more to it.”

Lambert continued taking history courses, falling in love with the department and professors.

“I really look up to some of the professors here in the history department; Ted Melillo, John Servos, Rick Lopez, Sean Redding,” Lambert said. “They are all fantastic teachers and I’ve taken several classes with all of them. It was just really great professors in that department that I kept wanting to take classes with.”

The real turning point in Lambert’s college career, however, was her sophomore summer when she lived in rural village in Sierra Leone for 12 weeks, working as an agricultural intern for a nonprofit organization called OneVillage Partners (OVP), established by Amherst alum Jeff Hall ’86.

“No electricity, no running water, my first time out of North America. My friends and family definitely thought I was insane for wanting to go Africa and do an internship where I didn’t know what I would be doing,” Lambert said. “I was totally out of my comfort zone physically, intellectually, professionally. I just did not belong. But I knew if I threw myself into it, tried really hard and asked a lot of questions and had a good attitude towards it that something good could come of it.”

Lambert, however, soon fell in love with the place and the people, and ended up writing a thesis on the same villages she had worked in, returning to those villages this past winter to conduct research.

“Academically that shaped me, personally that shaped me; that was a huge turning point in my college career,” Lambert said. “I have so much to thank Amherst College for that experience. It has shaped my college experience and my life.”

Upon returning to the College, invigorated from her trip, Lambert delved into her studies, eager to learn more about the place she’d just been. Eventually, she chose to write her thesis on how the Sierra Leone civil war had affected the lives of the people in the three villages she worked on and how development following and immediately before the civil war changed how people manage their resources.

“Keri demonstrates for me an ideal Amherst College student: rather than simply doing all the work asked of her, she always pushes beyond expectations, fueled by her own curiosity and passion for asking question and for seeking answers. Moreover … Keri demonstrates an unusual commitment to fostering an intellectual esprit de corps that helps inspire her peers to expect more of themselves and to engage their own ideas and research with passion,” said her thesis advisor, Professor Lopez. “The text of her thesis unfolds in ways that move from honest self-assessment toward empathetic analysis of the practices, beliefs and experiences of the people she studies. As she carries this forward in her life, I have no doubt that she will continue to grow as a person and blossom into a leader in whatever field of inquiry into which her interests might lead her.”

Amethyst Adventures

Involved in many campus activities — for example, she’s been a Resident Counselor for the last three years — Lambert is most well known for her accomplishments in running. A natural athlete, Lambert has gone to cross country nationals three times, winning All-American honors her junior and senior year and placing third in the nation this year. For the last two outdoor seasons she has been All-American in the 5K and last spring she was a national champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. She currently holds the fourth-fastest all-time DIII record in the steeplechase and the distance medley relay she anchored holds the ninth-fastest DIII all-time record. However, she views her greatest accomplishments as those that include other teammates: school records in the distance medley relay and the 4x800.

“I think running is one of those things that has shown me that if you want something bad enough and you get after it, you can do it,” Lambert said. “I’ve been inspired, challenged and supported by the people on the team. And honestly they’ve not only made my accomplishments possible, but they’ve made them worth it. Trophies don’t mean anything unless you have people you’ve accomplished them with.”

Lambert’s intense focus, respect for her competitors and deep desire to win set her apart from other runners.

“Keri is a monster competitor. She wants to win everything she does. Whatever the day calls for — a race, a hard workout, a long run, a lift — she brings the same enthusiasm and effort, no matter what. Keri is exceptionally skilled at making each of her teammates feel valued and important, and she’s a fabulous motivator,” said Amherst cross-country and track Coach Cassie Funke-Harris. “Our team will really miss her next year — both for the obvious athletic reasons, but also because of her big personality and the leadership that she brings to our team. Next year, I will miss her mischievous smirk, her intelligence and quick wit, her will to win, and the cocky half-smile on her face right before the gun goes off.”

Looking Forward

Besides winning the The Psi Upsilon Prize at the Senior Assembly, Lambert is also a Watson Fellow. Though she will greatly miss burgers fresh off the grill, she is looking forward to spending the next year traveling to Ghana, Tanzania and Malaysia to look at the sociocultural repercussions of masked consumerism through the gap between production and consumption of rubber and Nile perch.

“My plan is to go into rural farming and fishing communities and see how people’s lives are impacted by the way they interact with the environment and how the way creating commodities affects their lives. I’ll be keeping a blog to make their local studies global and peer into a world so far away,” Lambert said. “They are the hidden stories that we never get to hear that I’m hoping to bring to light.”

Eventually, Lambert hopes use her Beinecke Scholarship to go to grad school to get her Ph.D. in African Environmental History. She plans on one day being a teacher.

“Looking back over four year, it’s shocking to think that I’ve been here for four years and how much has changed in those years,” Lambert said. “I came in as a freshman thinking I was going to be a doctor. I think I’ve taken one biology course, and I took it this semester and it was definitely not a premed requirement. I think that here I’ve learned that if you follow what you love it will carry you to places. There is nothing more you can do for yourself and the people around you than to pursue the things that you love and do them to the absolute best that you can.”