Bibian Mentel-Spee is a three-fold Winter Paralympics gold-medalist and five-times world champion para-snowboarding athlete. Despite battling cancer nine times since the beginning of the century, and winning her 2018 Olympic medals at age 45.
She wants to transfer her energy toward giving back snowboarding at the grassroots level and help kids with physical impairment after announcing her retirement due to her cancer returning for the 10th time.
Mentel-Spee became a Paralympian after having her right leg amputated below the knee after a bone cancer tumor was discovered while she was attempting to qualify for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Having been diagnosed again in July 2017 with cancer in her neck, oesophagus, and ribs, she had expected her treatment to be over by October in time to prepare for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which was scheduled for February. However, in December she was informed by doctors that the tumor in her neck required further urgent surgery – giving her barely any time to prepare for the Games. But she somehow competed, after her final operation in January 2018.
Before competing, Mentel-Spee said: “I let go of my expectations for Pyeongchang. I’m really happy that I am able to go and that I can compete there. For me, it is more important to compete there than to win. And just being there at the event with all my friends and showcasing the sport, that is the most important thing for me. I’m not really thinking about the results.”
She was victorious in an all-Dutch final in Pyeongchang, edging out her team-mate Lisa Bunschoten for gold when she recovered faster after both women fell in the final race. But announced her retirement after the games.
Mentel-Spee, at 46, said her decision to retire was not only based on the snowboard. “The last four years were a bit rough on me medical-wise, the cancer is still not gone. So it’s just been a decision about life, not only snowboarding.”
Her cancer returned for the 10th time, as small traces were found in her lungs a few weeks prior to competing at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in March.
Dutch Para snowboarder Bibian Mentel-Spee called an end to a glittering career. But is still sticking to the slopes; her happy place. Mentel-Spee said “I’ve been the whole summer thinking about it, about what I want to do, And what makes me happy is how we can progress the sport, how we can get kids into the sport and make it grow. And I think it is about time to take the next step.”
Having won three Paralympic gold medals and seven world titles (four in Para snowboard), also helping get the sport into the Paralympic Winter Games programme for Sochi 2014, Mentel-Spee wants to transfer her energy toward giving back to the sport at the grassroots level.
In April, she is organising a sports “festival” in Switzerland called the “Mentelity Games,” which invites everyone with a physical impairment to try winter snow sports. she said “I hope that kids who have an impairment have the same choices as able-bodied kids and that they can try a couple of sports and see what they like best,”
“I will always be a snowboarder, and I will always be snowboarding but maybe not doing the competitions as I used to, and see where I can use my strengths to where I can progress the sport,” Mentel-Spee said.
The PyeongChang 2018 Games would perhaps be her most memorable. Mentel-Spee had spent six months before competing, undergoing cancer treatment and having surgeries a month before the games. But she fought back to dominate the women’s SB-LL2 category, taking home the snowboard-cross and banked slalom prizes.
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