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Bibian Mentel (1972–2021), Paralympic snowboarding champion

by Linnea Crowther

Bibian Mentel was a snowboarder who won three gold medals at the Paralympic Winter Games after losing part of her leg to cancer.

Champion

Mentel was a Dutch snowboarding champion before her illness, winning the national championship six times. She was preparing to compete in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when she injured her ankle. An x-ray revealed a bone tumor, one that had initially occurred in 1999 and was now back. Mentel’s leg was amputated below the knee and she was told she’d never snowboard again. Instead, she was back on the slopes as soon as possible, and seven months after her surgery, she won her seventh Dutch championship, competing against non-disabled athletes.

The Paralympics initially weren’t an option for Mentel, as snowboarding wasn’t included in the games. But she lobbied for years, and the event was finally added to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Mentel won gold in the snowboard cross that year, and she came back to the 2018 Paralympics and won gold in both snowboard cross and banked slalom. But Mentel’s cancer continued to return over and over again. She had five more surgeries even as she continued to compete as often as possible.

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Notable quote

“As an athlete, it’s a funny thing — people look up to you, put you on a pedestal, think you’re capable of doing anything. A week later, suddenly you’re disabled, and now people were telling me what I could not do. And this made me really rebellious. Because, let’s be honest: The more people were telling me what I could not do, the more I wanted to prove them wrong.” —from Mentel’s 2018 TEDx talk

Tributes to Bibian Mentel

Full obituary: The New York Times

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