Some say a smile is the most universally understood emotion, regardless of the language spoken. For UNYQers, there is another emotion that everyone innately understands: Resilience.
Loss of limb can have one of two overriding impacts on an individual’s psyche: withdrawal or triumph. The level of resilience in the face of adversity that leads to triumph is a common trait amongst UNYQers.
Together, we celebrate every individual momentous moment – big and small – along each journey toward feeling whole again. But today, there is one particular story that stands out and stands tall.
Bibian Mentel-Spee is a UNYQer whose level of resiliency and triumph has led her on a challenging and yet incredible journey.
You see, Bibian is a nine-time cancer survivor, transtibial amputee, two-time author, Dutch snowboard World Cup champion and now, three-time Paralympic Gold Champion! Her recent wins at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in PeyongChang came just two months after completing her latest round of cancer treatment. That meant almost no practice time on the slopes going into the Games. And that was only part of her challenge.
Because of her most recent pre-game diagnosis, the Dutch Olympic Committee would not commit to supporting her. The Dutch Skiing Sports Federation would only ante up nine percent of the funding needed. But Bibian has never been one to let anything stop her. So she crowdfunded her way to PeyongChang.
“I came to the Paralympic Winter Games with no expectations at all since I had neck surgery only three months ago. Therefore, winning two Gold medals at both the Snowboard Cross and the Banksy Slalom made me the happiest person ever! I’m so glad that I made it and everything worked out fine. And I’m really, really happy with everyone who supported me on my way to PeyongChang. Thank you very, very much!”
Of course, that determination is to be expected from a woman who seems to consistently achieve whatever anyone thinks she can’t. After her 2002 amputation, she was back on the slopes in just four months. Within a year, Bibian would compete and win the Dutch snowboard championship, in a non-parathlete competition.
Bibian then pointed her poles toward the Paralympics. In fact, it is thanks to Bibian that the Paralympics has a snowboarding event at all. It took eight years of lobbying but she won that “race,” too. The crowning achievement resulted in snowboarding being recognized as its own medal event.
That effort, along with her inspirational approach to life and pride as a Dutch athlete, bestowed her the honor of Knighthood in the Order of Orange-Nassau in 2012. This Dutch chivalry society was first established by Royals in the late 1800s to recognize special merits achieved for society. Bibian was also a 2018 finalist for World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability in the prestigious Laureus Award, an annual tribute to athletes who demonstrate excellent athletic achievement and strong leadership qualities.
As an author of two motivational books and founder of the Mentelity Foundation, Bibian continues to inspire children and young adults with physical disabilities to engage in sports, particularly the extreme board sports she loves.
“I absolutely love the work we do with the Mentelity Foundation where we try to teach children with physical disabilities to play sports, especially board sports,” Bibian said. “Besides that, we love to show the kids that nothing is impossible and that they have to look into the possibilities instead of the disabilities. Because if you truly believe in something and you really want something, anything can happen.”
Living her motto of, “Let difficulties make us better, not bitter,” Bibian is a thriving, inspiring example of resiliency in motion. While we would never count her out for another awesome athletic achievement, even if 45-year-old Bibian never competed again, she will no doubt continue to go for the Gold in all she does. Every single day.
And that’s the epitome of resilience.