Prize Athlete

Track & field star owns multiple awards and school records

Simply put, there are entire sports teams that cannot claim the accomplishments that WPI women’s track & field team member Noelle Richard has already amassed.

In June she was one of four WPI track & field student athletes (along with Julie Eagle, Stephen Kocienski, and Wesley DeChristofaro) to be named Capital One Academic All-Americas for Track and Field/Cross Country.

Last season she participated in her fifth and sixth NCAA Championships in the 400-meter dash. A 10-time All-New England performer―as well as the 2011 indoor 400-meter champion and 2011 and 2013 ECAC indoor 400-meter champion―Richard is the WPI record holder in the 400. She is also a two-time winner of major awards at the WPI Athletics Banquet, including Best Senior Student Athlete in 2012­13.

She also earned the 2012–13 Varsity Club Award, which recognizes athletic achievements, character, leadership, sportsmanship, and promotion of school spirit. In 2011 she took home the Carolyn McCabe Award, which is presented to the sophomore female athlete who best exemplifies the high standards expressed in the WPI athlete.

In addition, Richard is the first WPI female student athlete since 2003 to compete at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where she finished 13th overall. And while all this might suggest that her main focus is sports, she is similarly successful in the classroom, where she is holding down a 3.78 GPA in mathematics.

Coming off the last turn down the final straight-away, I remember Coach Brian [Chabot] … and all my teammates cheering for me.

So with all these impressive achievements, is there one that stands out as extra special?

“At the Indoor Division III New England Championships during my sophomore year, I had the most exciting race of my entire life,” Richard says. “It was basically the starting point of my career as a 400-meter runner.”

Going into the 400-meter race, she was seeded third. She says her plan was to attempt to keep pace with the first-seeded for as long as she could. With a strong start, she found herself in the lead after the first lap.

“Coming off the last turn down the final straight-away, I remember Coach Brian [Chabot] … and all my teammates cheering for me. I was able to hold off the other runners and win the event. It was my first major win, a season-best time, and the time put me in contention for the NCAA Championships,” she recalls.

Richard earned a BS in mathematical sciences last May. She has returned to WPI to pursue an MS in applied statistics. As it turns out, coming back as a graduate student opened the door to a new athletic opportunity: She is, for the first time, a member of the WPI cross country (XC) team.

The NCAA permits a student to compete in a sport for four seasons. Richard’s final season of eligibility for track ended last May. She says she was upset about it at the time because track & field had become such a huge part of her life

“I still wanted to run and compete,” she says. “With some encouragement from Coach Brian and a few others, I decided to officially join the cross country team. I never ran XC as an undergraduate, so I was eligible to compete as a graduate student. It has turned out to be a great way to make the transition from sprinting to distance.”

Chabot, WPI track & field head coach, says that while Richard’s individual accomplishments are clearly impressive, her contributions to the program as a whole cannot be overstated.

“Noelle really helped put WPI women’s track & field back on the map in her four years as an undergraduate,” he says. “During her time, the team has not only established itself as the best women’s team on campus, but also as one of the best track & field programs in the region―and now nationally.”

Chabot believes that as WPI women’s track & field becomes more successful, Richard will be remembered as one of the primary reasons for that success.

- By Mike D’Onofrio