Our internet and social-media driven society yearns for heroes, no less than the Greek or Romans did before us. A hero today is nothing less than the demi-god of those days, although the parentage of our modern day heroes cannot be traced back to the gods themselves. We value our heroes for their courage and bravery in the face of threats and adversity.
The Olympic games is the stage where many of our champions fight for a medal, for many the highest achievement possible. In a popular viral video from a Dutch talent show a 9-year old girl astounds everyone with a beautiful rendition of Puccini’s O mio bambino caro. When she is asked by the professional jury what she wants to be if singing didn’t work out, she answered casually: I guess I’ll go to the Olympic games.
During the Winter games in Sochi, we were rooting for our Dutch speed skaters, who managed to win medal after medal until we were wondering: what happened to the competition? Each day the nation was mesmerized by what our speedskaters had accomplished.
This year I intended to follow the Paralympics. Primarily to follow Bibian Mentel, a Dutch snowboarder who has been a source of inspiration to me. However, before I knew it, the Paralympics were finished.
During these Paralympic games, Bibian Mentel won the Paralympic gold medal on the snowboard cross. She has won all the world cup events this season for the snowboard cross so it wasn’t a complete surprise. But perhaps her greatest achievement in the Paralympics was getting the snowboard crosss on the program this year.
I’ve been following Bibian Mentel (online) for a few months now. She is a most remarkable woman. She was working on qualifying for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when she was diagnosed with bone cancer. Four months before the Olympics, her leg was amputated, but 7 months later she became national snow boarding champion in The Netherlands, on one leg (beating the ‘regular’ competition). Before that, she was champion for 6 years in a row.
Since then, Bibian has dedicated herself to working with children with handicaps teaching them how to snowboard and coaching them in the various competitions. Her Mentelity Foundation has a clear vision: to encourage children and adults with physical impairments to focus on what they can achieve. On and off the slopes.
Together with the Dutch NOC-NSF organization, Bibian Mentel has fought relentlessly to add snowboarding to the Paralympic Winter Games. This year was the first year the para-snowboard events were included in the program. Besides competing in the event and winning a gold medal, she is also the coach for the ski- and snowboard-team.
This week Bibian will be honored in Sochi with the Wang Youn Dai Award, also known as an IPC award, along with Australian alpine skier Toby Kane. This award recognizes two Paralympic sporters for their contribution to society. As the short film The History of the Paralympic Movement shows: “…power athletes create a more inclusive society and inspire the world to believe that anything is possible.”
What few know about Bibian Mentel is that she is also a five-time cancer survivor. Her cancer has returned and has metastasized, and she is living with it every day. She is a true survivor and a role model for anyone who values persistence. For her, the illness that resulted in her amputation will most likely also cause her death. But she is always smiling, facing her enemy with courage and determination.
As Benjamin Franklin said “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” And so my hero Bibian Mentel shows us that the weapons of the modern day hero-warrior are tools of the mind as well as the body: persistence, energy en optimism. For all of us, these true heroes really do make us believe that anything is possible.
If you’d like to read more about Bibian Mentel, please check her website at http://www.bibianmentel.com/ or the Mentelity Foundation. Bibian Mentel’s book – Met mijn goede been uit bed – is available via the Mentelity Foundation (in Dutch only) by sending a mail to info@mentelity.