In life, there are people who represent the best parts of humanity. Those who show what it is like to be kind, courageous and welcoming.
At the UofA, one of those people is Will Lambley.
A sophomore communications major, Lambley is easily recognizable by his ear-to-ear smile. Although his sight is limited, its role in his story is a mere crumb of who he is.
Lambley lost his sight at 16 years old due to Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, a disease that kills optic nerve cells. This rare diagnosis came in May 2019, following an incident from the previous December.
During a semifinal football game his sophomore year at Rejoice Christian School in Owasso, Oklahoma, he looked at the scoreboard and realized he could no longer read the numbers. Two weeks later, he could not drive. One month later, he could not make out the faces of those around him.
Lambley and his family traveled around trying to find an ophthalmologist who could identify the issue, he said. Finally, at John Hopkins Community Physicians in Bethesda, Maryland, he was diagnosed as legally blind.
“At that moment, I was thinking, ‘Man, where do I even go from here?’” Lambley said. “At the moment, my mindset in my life kind of changes.”
That diagnosis is what prompted people to ask Lambley to share his story, but his friends say his story of positivity began long before.
Hunter Jennings, Lambley’s best friend since their freshman year of high school, said he has been a force of joy and has had a can-do attitude his entire life.
“Even before he lost his eyesight, he was someone with a positive attitude,” Jennings said. “Every day he would come into school beaming with excitement. He brings so much excitement to boring things about the day. He embraces it because he figures that if they’re not fun, why shouldn’t we make them fun?”
Lambley’s father Rand frequently repeated one phrase after his son’s diagnosis: no excuses.
That sentiment plays a huge role in how Will tells his story. People are not going to feel sorry for Will, Rand said, and no matter what, his family must not use the word “disabled” to describe him, because no matter what the situation is, Will can find a way.
Lambley’s loss of vision began to affect his life in unpredictable ways. When taking the reading portion of the ACT, a proctor had to read the test out loud to him and he had to essentially memorize the passages to select answers, he said.
“He’s got a work ethic like I’ve never seen,” Rand said. “Which, now, fast forward to his vision loss, I think that is a huge attribute to him because he works harder than anyone else.”
Rand said most of Will’s life has revolved around sports. In response to the diagnosis, his high school football coach, Brent Marley, moved him to nose guard. Will said his job was to charge the center after the ball was snapped to make the player useless for the offense.
Lambley’s football team showed him unwavering love and played a familial role since the beginning of his sight loss, he said.
“It really helped me throughout the whole situation to be around my team as they were able to encourage me and I was able to encourage them at a hard time,” Lambley said. “When the season came about, through my eyesight loss, I was able to challenge them knowing that when adversity comes, we need to stay positive.”
Will has been a Razorback fan since childhood, which his team was aware of, Rand said. They designed a play called the “Wild Hog” that set him up at the 1-yard line and enabled him to score a touchdown.
Marley has played an essential role in creating a legacy of Lambley’s character, starting a tradition with his jersey. Every week, the coach picks the student who exhibited the best leadership and work ethic, and that person gets to wear the No. 20 jersey, Rand said.
On his graduation night, the school issued a new Lambley Legacy award for a student who has overcome adversity, Rand said. Every year, Will gets to come back and present the award.
“Obviously, it has my name in it, but I don’t want it to be about me,” Lambley said. “I want it to be about how no matter what we’re facing in life, if we have the right attitude and focus on others, we can still achieve whatever we want to do.”
Lynn Meade, Lambley’s communications professor, said she has seen firsthand how his unique ability to succeed in challenging situations makes him stand out.
“Will is not extraordinary because he is blind,” Meade said. “He is extraordinary because he sees what he needs to succeed and he puts in the necessary work to make it happen.”
Lambley, who is @willis_07 on Twitter, began working as a motivational speaker in 2019. In August of that year, former Arkansas head football coach Chad Morris invited him to speak at a practice. The Razorbacks were the first group he ever publicly spoke to.
“That was just a really cool opportunity that really showed me how I can really use this situation,” Lambley said. “With the right attitude, work ethic and putting others first, you can still do what you want to do and help others in bigger ways than you can imagine.”
Since then, Lambley has spoken to various groups, including churches, sports teams and colleges. Through sharing his story, he said he hopes listeners will find joy in life regardless of the challenges they face.
While the future for Lambley is unknown, one thing can be sure — he will be doing it all with a smile on his face.
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