‘Until next time’: A snowboarding champion’s life of fight, gratitude and love

2014 Paralympic Winter Games - Day 7
Bibian Mentel (center)/Getty Images

Bibian Mentel, a Dutch Paralympic champion snowboarder who repeatedly beat cancer while the eminent figure of her sport, shared an update through her foundation on March 5.

The cancer returned, this time in her brain, and no treatment was possible. Doctors advised her to say goodbye to her loved ones.

“I still like to take every day as a beautiful moment,” Mentel, 48, said at the beginning of a national television interview last week, according to a translation. “That sounds cliché, but we’ve had — in the past two weeks — a lot of time to speak about everything with family and friends, and eventually you reach a point where you wonder, ‘Are there still things that need to be said?’ And I’m happy that I have not been taken from life from one day to the next, and that I have the chance to say those last things that you want to say to each other to my family and friends. Because of that, everything has actually been said. Now every day is a gift.”

In 2000, Mentel, a former law student, was on a path to making the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. It ended when bone cancer was found in her lower right leg, just above the ankle joint. Her leg was amputated below the knee.

“Although the doctors told me I would never snowboard again, I was determined to pick up my passion,” Mentel said in a 2018 Ted Talk. “And only seven months later, I was back on my snowboard, competing at the Dutch Championships and winning myself a gold medal.

“That day I did not only win a gold medal. No, I thought I had beaten cancer. But boy was I wrong.”

The cancer returned, again and again, and would not respond to chemotherapy. Mentel, in that Ted Talk, showed a timeline on a screen that listed five lung surgeries and two neck operations, plus radiation in her neck and rib areas.

Her husband, Edwin Spee, recently said she’s a 15-time cancer survivor who had 128 radiations (128 is also the number of gold medals she won, Mentel said in that Ted Talk.)

In 2016, doctors sent her home to her husband and three children with the message, “You’re probably going to die within a couple of years, and there’s nothing, really, we can do for you.”

“I had to tell my children that I was going to die,” she said in 2018. “But we always tell our children, no matter how bad the situation might look, never, ever let it ruin your future. That evening, we had a good cry. And we ended up in a restaurant celebrating life, and the next two months, I slept amazingly well, but my husband didn’t. He searched the internet for hours and hours trying to look for a solution. He found out there was a new way of radiation therapy. I underwent that therapy, and, look, I’m still here.”

She always returned to her passion in dominating fashion. In 2014, Mentel became the first Paralympic snowboarding champion, winning snowboard cross gold in Sochi.

It was a culmination after Mentel led the fight for the sport’s Paralympic inclusion, writing letters to the International Paralympic Committee and traveling the world with other riders to get the word out. During that time, Mentel started the Mentelity Foundation to create opportunities for young people who live with a physical or mental challenge.

“Let’s be honest, if I didn’t become sick [in 2000], if I didn’t lose my leg, I would never have been in para sports,” she said. “The fact that I gave others strength makes me proud.”

In 2018 in PyeongChang, she swept both snowboard events, snowboard cross and banked slalom. Those triumphs came two months after 16 hours of surgery to replace vertebrae with titanium to keep her from being paralyzed from the neck down.

“We all know you’re going to come back strong. You always have. You always do,” friend Amy Purdy, an American who shared the Paralympic podium with Mentel in 2014, said in her “Bouncing Forward” podcast interview with Mentel taped in December and published this week. “That just right there proved how badass you are.”

Mentel retired from competitive snowboarding in 2018. In 2019, she woke from a back surgery with no feeling in the lower part of her body. She couldn’t move her legs.

Bibian Mentel, Amy Purdy
Bibian Mentel (left) and American Amy Purdy. (via Amy Purdy)

Mentel was due to participate on the Dutch version of “Dancing with the Stars,” inspired by Purdy, who in 2014 became the first Paralympian on the U.S. version of the show. Mentel improvised, reaching the finals as the first-ever competitor in a wheelchair.

“The more and more people were telling me what I could not do, the more I wanted to prove them wrong,” Mentel said in 2018. “I still have never found anything yet [that] I cannot do because of the fact that I’m missing a leg.”

Mentel and Purdy are not only friends and competitors, but they also authored parallel lives.

Each cried watching the other on “Dancing with the Stars.” They both fought for Paralympic snowboarding inclusion, albeit based from different continents — Purdy with her organization, Adaptive Action Sports. They both faced recent life challenges. Purdy underwent nine surgeries since 2019, when a massive blood clot was found in an artery in her left leg.

Mentel and Purdy, and their husbands, spoke for more than an hour in a WhatsApp video chat on Wednesday, sharing memories, laughs and tears.

“It’s hard to believe how incredibly grateful and positive this woman is, no matter what she’s facing,” Purdy said. “It doesn’t matter if she’s on the top of a Paralympic podium, she’s grateful and positive. It doesn’t matter if she has just weeks left to live. She literally has the same attitude and perspective on life.”

Mentel cherished that she wakes up with the warm sun on her face. Wakes up to her husband. And to hugs and kisses from her son and daughters every morning. She abides by the mantra, collect memories, not possessions. She was asked in the TV interview what she considered the meaning of life.

“That’s simple for me,” she answered. “It is love. Love in any form. For those close to you. For nature.”

A pier was named after her in the Netherlands. Mentel told Purdy that she is most proud of a playground, also named after her, that was built specifically for children with disabilities.

“[Mentel] said, ‘You know we’re still making memories, and I’m grateful for that,'” Purdy said. “Bibian reminded us, all that matters is what we have today. She said, ‘Look at us right now. I have love in my life. You guys have love in your life. We love each other. We’ve lived this incredible life side by side. What more can we ask for?'”

Purdy and her husband, Daniel, didn’t know if the conversation was a goodbye. They made sure to say everything and thank Mentel for being a role model in sport and outside of it. A Dutch reporter wrote last week that Mentel’s first name is derived from a word that means “life,” which she didn’t know until her husband recently mentioned it to her.

“[We] thanked her for being such an example of how to live and how to love and how to even die with grace,” Purdy said. “I think we should all aspire to live life in a way that she has.”

Purdy will never forget that hour together. Particularly the end.

“We don’t know how to say goodbye, and we don’t want to say goodbye,” she said. “[Mentel] said, ‘Well that’s why I don’t say goodbye. What I say is “until next time.”‘ It was so fantastic. So that’s how we ended the conversation. ‘Until next time.'”

2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek set French Open rematch

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she plays Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays the top seed Swiatek, who later Monday advanced after 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko retired down 5-1 after taking a medical timeout due to illness.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world. Gauff said last week that there’s no point in revisiting last year’s final — a 6-1, 6-3 affair — but said Monday that she should rewatch that match because they haven’t met on clay since.

“I don’t want to make the final my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “Since last year I have been wanting to play her, especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well, and she was going to do well.

“The way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve, and I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

In the men’s draw, 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud reached the quarterfinals by beating 35th-ranked Chilean Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. He’ll next play sixth seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7) winner over 23rd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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