LOOSDRECHT – After 22 years of fighting cancer, the three-time Paralympic champion and bon vivant Bibian Mentel died of the disease yesterday at the age of 48. His family announced it on social media. NH Nieuws looks back on his eventful life.
Anyone who compared Bibian’s life to a sport would quickly find themselves with the snowboard cross she loved so much, the discipline in which she twice won Paralympic gold. The curves and obstacles of the countless courses she has conquered could symbolize the medical whirlwind in which she has been tossed around since 2000. Her innumerable opponents for the tumors she has resolutely treated.
He was close to knowing whether Bibian, who referred to himself primarily as “mother and wife”, had represented the Netherlands at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Six-time Dutch snowboard cross champion, she faced the first setback in 1999: during preparations for a World Cup race in the United States, 27-year-old Loosdrecht tore her ankle bracelets.
After a super-fast rehabilitation, she buckled up her snowboard again, finished the season with a fatty ankle and continued to achieve good results. But when things go wrong again during preparations for the 2001/2002 Olympic season, she is referred to hospital by her physiotherapist.
Bone cancer just before the Games
Three months later, bone cancer was diagnosed and doctors removed a tumor from her shin. After the operation, she resumed training and preparation for the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. When soon after it turns out that the cancer still resides in her body, and has even penetrated her periosteum, she decides to have her lower leg amputated.
“I happened to meet someone who was on a snowboard with a prosthetic leg. I thought: if he can do it, I can do it too”
It quickly becomes clear that the word abandon is not in Bibian’s dictionary. The wounds from her amputation are barely healed when she is on a snowboard again. At first it hurts, but the embarkation is going wonderfully for her. Surprising, because she cannot walk without crutches at this time.
Equipped with a prosthesis, she ‘just’ took part again in the Dutch championship more than six months after her operation. “I ran into someone who was on a snowboard with a prosthetic leg,” she told NH Nieuws in November 2019. “I thought: if he can do it, I will. can too. “
Two years ago, Bibian spoke at length about his life at NH Nieuws. The text continues below the video.
The greatest successes
And she turned out to be able to do it. In fact, with half a stage behind her rivals, she finished on the top step of the podium for the seventh time. The following year she became a mother, a year later she won a silver medal in the halfpipe, although she did not achieve her greatest successes until the following years.
To be successful she had to do a lot of lobbying, but she is also successful. In 2013, the International Paralympic Committee announced that the snowboard cross and halfpipe disciplines will be added to the Sochi Paralympic program the following year. Mentel qualified, was named flag bearer of the Dutch delegation and – how could it be otherwise – won the gold medal in snowboard cross.
Two weeks after being voted Paralympic Sportsperson of the Year in December 2014, she is once again receiving bad news. For the umpteenth time, a tumor has been found, this time in his lungs. She is in treatment again, but will not be discouraged, or rather get off the track: in February, she will “ just ” participate in the 2015 World Cup in Spain and will again show herself as the snow queen with two gold medals.
Cancer again, coming back again
The treatments were successful, but in 2016, the cancer returned to her body. She bounced back again and managed to surpass herself: two years later in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she extended her title and casually won her third Paralympic gold medal, in halfpipe. In October 2018, she announced that she was ending her career as a top athlete.
Bibian and his snowboard, they had until then been inextricably linked. Her beloved sport gives her the chance to show the world what she can do. May her sport take her literally and figuratively to great heights. But the lesson she teaches people is far more important: No matter how bad your setback is, fight for it. Never give up. This is the message that she herself is spreading more and more.
Never give up. She doesn’t do it herself, even though recurring cancer continues to rule her life for years. In total, Bibian is affected no less than 15 times by the symptoms of the disease, which leads to numerous radiation therapies and operations.
She never lets illness really control her life. She can’t, she doesn’t want to. “I love life too much,” she smiled in front of the NH News camera two years ago. “It makes me happy when I wake up next to my husband every morning and see his face for the first time. Or the kiss I get from my son when he leaves for school. Or the phone calls from my daughters that I get for lunch. It’s the little things that matter in life. “
Survive and persevere
Shortly after Bibian stopped high performance sport, another tumor was discovered. This time in the lower back. Another major operation follows. The tumor is removed, but because some nerves are damaged during the operation, Bibian wakes up with half a spinal cord injury. She finds herself in a wheelchair. She never sees it as a limitation. In fact, anyone who thinks the wheelchair and her half-spinal cord injury means she has to cancel her appearance on the Dancing with the Stars TV show, which had been promised to her years before, is wrong. Bibian participates “right”.
“We decided years ago that we didn’t want cancer to take over our lives. I love life too much.”
One week after another, Bibian dances the stars in the sky. She floats on the dance floor with her dance partner Joost. She will receive mountains of compliments. The story of Bibian’s life, but above all his strength and perseverance. He is praised as an example for many.
There are also criticisms. Bibian faces hateful reactions while participating in the dance program. It is considered ‘unfair’ for her to participate in a wheelchair and her emotional life story would ensure that Bibian gets the votes, not her dancing skills. Bibian is shocked by the reactions, but is recovering from it. “I’d rather give all these people a hug,” she replies in perspective. “I hope I can just be a good ambassador for wheelchair dancing and show people that young, old, limited or not: you can just dance.”
Match of a lifetime
Bibian reaches the final, but fails to win it. Her real competition doesn’t begin until after that, when it turns out that she has to go under the knife again for an uncovered tumor. This time for a tumor on his spine. A tumor discovered during his participation in the dance program. She won’t let that put her off. “We decided years ago that we didn’t want cancer to rule our lives,” she says. The heavy and risky operation is going well. The smile returns to her face when she just wakes up from her anesthesia. Perseverance is its nature. A week later, she leaves the hospital with an even bigger smile to hug her husband and drive home.
A life full of highlights, gold medals, but also an inhuman number of setbacks which, however, could never be avoided. A match against a debilitating disease that she manages to win so often, but still loses after more than twenty years.
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