Dutchwoman Bibian Mentel, who spent two decades fighting cancer while dominating her sport, including becoming the first Paralympic snowboarding champion in 2014, died Monday at age 48 from the effects of widespread bone cancer, according to her foundation and Dutch sport officials.
Mentel was told earlier this month that the cancer spread to her brain and treatment was no longer possible.
“After a few wonderful weeks filled with love, removing memories and making new memories, she is now at peace,” according to the Mentelity Foundation.
Mentel, who also won two snowboarding golds in PyeongChang in 2018, was told by doctors 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 three weeks ago, 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.
The cancer returned repeatedly and would not respond to chemotherapy. Mentel had at least five lung surgeries, two neck operations and 128 radiations, including one two months before the 2018 Paralympics to keep her from being paralyzed from the neck down.
“What Bibian Mentel-Spee [her married name] did for Para sport in general, let alone Para Snowboard, is immeasurable and words simply cannot do her or her achievements justice,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a press release.
American Amy Purdy, a fellow Paralympic snowboarding medalist and friend, video chatted with Mentel and their husbands earlier this month.
“Bibian reminded us, all that matters is what we have today,” Purdy said in a recent interview. “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?’
“It’s hard to believe how incredibly grateful and positive this woman is, no matter what she’s facing. 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.”