Facing challenges

I was born without forearms and without a right lower leg. Until high school, however, I never experienced being "different" from the other kids. When I was about six years old I was in soccer and was not allowed to participate in the games because of my prosthesis. My mother hated that, but I was already looking ahead: what will I do next? In high school I was bullied with my disability for one year, but I was able to get rid of it. Then I learned to look at things positively and to be able to get over things.

After I discovered skateboarding, the step to snowboarding was small. I took lessons and approached Bibian Mentel. I needed contact with fellow sufferers and was eager to learn from her. After emailing her in February 2010, I was allowed to join a training trip to Canada as early as March. Eventually, I started competing in 2012 and at the 2014 Paralympic Games I finished 14th. I narrowly missed out on the 2018 Games.

Even leading up to those Games, I knew I would be working at the Mentelity Foundation after that. During my time as an elite athlete, I learned an awful lot from Bibian, became a lot more independent and saw how she was committed to helping people with physical challenges. Her motivation to make sports with a physical challenge more accessible to everyone sparked in me the fire to dedicate myself to this as well. I notice that too many children with physical challenges (and their environment) still think that almost nothing is possible. My message to them is: always look at the positive and at what is possible. Why avoid a challenge in life because of a physical disability?

"Why avoid a challenge in life because of a physical disability?"

Merijn Koek (30)
Project management & Snowboard instructor Mentelity Foundation