World Champ of Cheese

See how Abby Lampe applied what she learned at NC State to become the world champion of one of the most bizarre sporting events in the world.

After a two-year hiatus, one of the oldest and indeed strangest sporting events returned this summer, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake. Although the oldest written record of cheese rolling is a message from 1826, it was apparent then that the event was an old tradition. Historians believe it to be at least six hundred years old. 

The event gained international recognition on social media, and after it appeared on Netflix’s docuseries, We are the Champions, in 2020. “I learned about the cheese rolling years ago through seeing it on social media,” recalled Abby Lampe, ISE alumna from the spring class of 2022 and a North Carolina native. “I think the cheese rolling race is so bizarre and obscure, which fits perfectly into what I do, so I knew I wanted to participate.” “What she does” includes the Krispy Kreme Challenge, which inspired her to participate in the cheese-rolling competition.

“I’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Lampe told NC State’s Technician. “Oh, my gosh, a really long time. And even at my graduation dinner with all my family, one of the key talking points was the strategy for the cheese roll.”

After graduating in May, Lampe planned to take time off to travel before beginning her new job in the fall. Armed with only a few weeks of Spanish courses, she bravely traveled to Europe with stops planned in Spain, England, Portugal, Greece, Sweden and France. The stop in England was to participate in the cheese rolling race.

Preparing for the Race

Lampe’s preparation for the race began with her family back in North Carolina. To prepare for the mental aspects of the race, she strategized with their help, watching hours of cheese rolling videos. She focused on the previous two cheese rolls and applied what she learned to her overall plan. “Industrial and systems engineering is all about finding the optimal and most efficient method of doing things,” said Lampe. “As an industrial engineer, being prepared is a must. So, after breaking down cheese rolling videos, I utilized my project management skills and mindset to find the fastest route—a method she learned throughout her ISE classes.

Abby Lampe has the roll of cheese in sight as she starts down Cooper’s Hill
Abby Lampe starts down Cooper’s Hill

To train for the intense physical side of the race, Lampe tried to find a steep enough hill to match Cooper’s Hill to practice her rolling technique. She could not find any in Raleigh, so she used the closest thing she could find: the hills at Dorthea Dix Park, next to NC State’s campus. Together with her training partner—and boss—ISE staff member Jasmine Petway, they took to the hills.

When Lampe first brought the idea of cheese rolling to Petway, let’s just say that Petway had some reservations. “I did not understand her enthusiasm or why anyone on the planet would want to put themselves in a dangerous situation,” admitted Petway. “But, I forgot we are talking about the adventurous Abby here.” 

So they grabbed some ice cream and headed to Dorthea Dix for a little walk. They found an open field with some small hills, and Petway suggested they should “test” them out. Lampe went first by trying her strategy of going head first. Petway followed. “I was like the little five-year-old kid rolling on my side with grass everywhere in my hair and clothes,” she recounted. It wasn’t an even match. Lampe won based on intentionality, passion and strategy. But that wasn’t enough for Lampe, who knew her final preparations would take place on Cooper’s Hill.

Arriving several days before the big race, Lampe, along with her friend Robert Kobrin—a junior studying biomedical engineering at NC State, to study the course. “His encouragement helped, and he was an excellent sounding board when it came to strategizing before the event,” said Lampe. Decked out in the volleyball and basketball elbow and knee pads she brought from home, she secretly took a test run down Cooper’s Hill.

The Big Race

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake consisted of four races, with the women’s race going third. So, Lampe watched and recorded the first two races intently. “I am very competitive, so I wanted to see their strategies,” she shared. “I also got ready by playing classic American and North Carolina favorites on the way to the top of the Hill,” recalled Lampe. “It included Wagon Wheel, Country Roads (take me home) and other classics.”

“When we were getting ready to race, I was scoping out who would actually take the competition seriously.” At the top of the hill, she noticed that one person kept inching up, so she stayed level with her so she wouldn’t be at a disadvantage. “I knew she would probably be one of the stronger competitors, and she ended up second,” confided Lampe. “So my intuition was right. I somehow out-rolled her.”

Looking down the steep slope, Lampe wasn’t fearful but still took time to pray that she wouldn’t break any bones and that she would win. “I was more ready to compete and excited than anxious or scared,” confided Lampe. “When I looked down the hill, I thought it was incredibly steep, and it became more of a reality.”

The starter began the race by counting up, “One to be ready. Two to be steady. Three for the cheese, and we run at four.” But Lampe was so excited that she never heard anything past the word cheese. “I didn’t even hear four, but I knew to go when I saw people running after the cheese,” she explained. She thought it was going well at the start with her sprint stride, but then she started tumbling. “It hurt a bit, but I knew it wouldn’t last very long,” recalled Lampe. “My head and body were getting slammed into the ground, and I remember feeling my teeth going into the ground.” 

Shortly after starting down the hill, Lampe realized she was rolling sideways because she kept getting closer to the crowd, so she tried to reposition herself. “I had no concern for anyone around me,” admitted Lampe. “I had no idea where they were. I just went with the rolling. Initially, before the race, I thought I could roll, spring up, sprint more, and bounce up, but that didn’t happen. I didn’t fight gravity, which was a contributing factor to my win because I won with the momentum of my roll that had been with me since the beginning.”

Local rugby players tenderly caught her as she rolled across the finish line. “I said, ‘Did I win?’ and they yelled, ‘You are the winner of the cheese rolling!’ I was so shocked. I didn’t think I would actually win.” A female staffer gave Lampe the cheese, and she raised it over her head and started jumping up and down in celebration. “My dream became a reality, and it all came to fruition,” reflected Lampe. “I couldn’t believe that the race I had been talking about for months had ended, and I somehow won.” Little did she know, the excitement of winning the race was just the beginning.

15 Minutes of Fame

Back in Raleigh, Petway had a calendar reminder to “Check on Abby” on the day of the race. She was a little scared for Lampe’s well-being and wanted to ensure that she didn’t break into two pieces. Five minutes before the reminder was to go off, Lampe sent her a text that said, “I WON.” When Petway could watch the video a few hours later, her mouth dropped to the floor. “I was shooketh, astonished and mindblown at how she came tumbling down the hill so fast chasing after a roll of cheese, recalled Petway. “My mouth was open for at least ten whole minutes. I texted her, ‘OMG, you are a freaking BEAST!’ The rest was history. She’s famous.”

Lampe holds up her trophy, a 7 - 9 pound wheel of Double Gloucester Cheese
Lampe holds up her trophy

For the first week after winning the cheese roll, Lampe would wake up still not genuinely believing that this was her life. Every day something so surreal would happen. One media outlet after another was reaching out for an interview. First, NC State Barstool posted about her, then NC State. “The number of interviews I did and articles written were so crazy,” said Lampe. The governor, Roy Cooper, acknowledged her win. Then the NC Senate. Local North Carolina news featured her as well. “My grandmother watches the news every day, and she saw me on the news without anyone telling her, recalled Lampe. “She had no idea what I was doing on the news. My grandmother called my sister and asked if I was in England because she didn’t want to be making this up. She couldn’t believe it—I still can’t.”

Shortly following the media requests came the endorsement deals. Lampe signed two name, image and likeness deals, one with Iconic Heroes and the other with NC State Wolfpack Outfitters. Both agreements included a part where she would receive proceeds from each sale. Lampe thought it appropriate to give the money to charity. “I only won a cheese rolling race, and making money off that is absolutely nuts,” confided Lampe. She asked people to vote for their favorite charity, and the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research won.

The Australian game show, Have you Been Paying Attention? reached out to Lampe to submit a recorded bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut. Still, they donated $500 to the Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne, an Australian charity I chose, on my behalf.

Local Raleigh sports radio was throwing around the belief that the win might be the thing to end the “NC State Stuff” curse. Lampe is all for that idea. “I really hope I broke it, and hopefully, this win for NC State and North Carolina is the start of a new beginning. I’m glad I could bring a ‘W’ home and represent a place that will forever hold my heart.” Lampe wants the NC State community to share this victory with her. “Celebrate the big victory, celebrate the little victories,” Lampe told the Technician. “It’s always a good day to be a Wolfpack fan and knowing that no other school in the US can say that they have someone who is the Cheese Rolling world champion.” If her win did indeed break the curse, it seems fitting that it was accomplished by someone with such an impressive NC State family lineage.

Her Wolfpack Family

Lampe comes from a true Wolfpack Red family. Her great grandfather, J. Harold Lampe, became the dean of the school of engineering in 1945. Her grandfather studied at NC State. Her parents went to NC State, and five of her seven siblings graduated or studied at NC State. “Being a Wolfpack fan and going to NC State was just assumed when I was younger,” explained Lampe. “I never thought I would go to any other school.” But picking a major, however, was influenced by both her uncle, Ross Lampe, and my brother William Lampe. They both graduated with industrial engineering degrees from NC State. 

J. Harold Lampe (Abby’s great grandfather) with his family after becoming the Dean of the School of Engineering
J. Harold Lampe (Abby’s great grandfather) with his family after becoming the Dean of the School of Engineering

As another member of Lampe’s “Wolfpack family,” Petway could be happier for her. “I’m super proud of Abby and her accomplishments,” she said. “She graduated this year, traveled the world and is living her best life. I love how she’s super humble and doesn’t let anything go to her head. Keep being the beautiful, quirky and loving being that you are.”

So the last question is, “Will you defend your title next year?” Lampe doesn’t rule it out. “If my job allows me to take a few days off, I might have to,” she confided.