Having her leg removed has also taken Mentel-Spee to the Paralympics. Twice. She was among those who lobbied hard for snowboarding to be added to the Sochi program four years ago.Last year when cancer returned for a ninth time and she underwent radiation therapy, doctors gave her another...
Having her leg removed has also taken Mentel-Spee to the Paralympics. Twice. She was among those who lobbied hard for snowboarding to be added to the Sochi program four years ago.
Last year when cancer returned for a ninth time and she underwent radiation therapy, doctors gave her another dose of tough news.
“During the winter period I was recovering and then when I wanted to start training in December, they figured out that my vertebrae was collapsing because of radiation therapy and because there was still tumour in there growing,” Mentel-Spee said.
The medicos said her C6 neck vertebra would need to be replaced with a titanium frame instead. That surgery happened at the start of January. Not much more than two months later Mentel-Spee was back in competition in PyeongChang.
“They said, ‘Well, we have to do this surgery because otherwise you’ll be paralysed for the rest of your life when you snap your neck, and that’s going to happen, for sure’,” Mentel-Spee recalls.
“The good thing about the surgery, doctors told me, is that I probably could be back on my snowboard within a certain amount of time. And they believed that I could still get the Paralympic Games.”
Only two weeks after the surgery Mentel-Spee was at her first training camp on snow as she eyed off action in South Korea.
This time, having not competed since this time last year and returning to the Paras as the reigning gold medallist, Mentel-Spee also had the benefit of lower expectations.
“I’ve been snowboarding for about 25 years so I have a lot of mileage on me and I know my technique is OK,” she said.
“So I was like, ‘I have no clue where I was standing right now, and we’ll see’.
“I had no expectations, therefore it’s even more wonderful that I pulled it off.”
Her latest against-the-odds achievement to win double snowboard gold in South Korea – on top of a snowboard cross gold in Sochi four years ago – is hardly her solitary example of beating hardship.
Mentel-Spee has written a book, Kut kanker! – which, when translated to English, is basically a Dutch way of giving a strong insult to the scourge of cancer. The book was endorsed by Richard Branson. “Story of an amazing woman. A must read for anyone who wants to enjoy life to the max,” the entrepreneur wrote.
Mentel-Spee was also the female recipient of the Whang Youn Dai award in Sochi – recognition of two athletes who exemplify the spirit of the Games. Australian Toby Kane, a much-loved Winter Paralympian, two-time bronze medallist in his standing skier category and a medical doctor, was also recognised.
The award, first presented in Seoul 30 years ago, acknowledges those who have “overcome adversity and put the spirit of the Games into motion”.
Hers is a simple and effective message of hope for those burdened by hardship.
“My message would be, ‘Just follow your dreams and keep following your passion’,” the veteran said.
“And believe in yourself. No matter how hard it looks, if you really stick to it I’m sure you can overcome a lot of things – far more than you might think.”
Began his full-time career at The Age as an online sports reporter in 1999 before joining Sportal as the Deputy Editor of the AFL-Telstra online network in 2002. Rejoined the online desk at The Age in 2006 and was online sports editor between 2006 and 2016. Has covered two Olympics (Sydney 2000 and London 2012), numerous Australian Open tennis tournaments and several AFL grand finals. Reads the back page first. Hack golfer. Wannabe tennis star.
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter
How to Automate Video Content Marketing in Under 1 Hour
5 Easy Video Lessons +
Bonus Free Toolkit