A serious accident at the 2009 German Championships almost forced Verena Bentele to end her successful biathlon and cross-country skiing career, that would have prevented her from winning five golds at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
After her guide gave her the wrong directions, Bentele fell into a ditch, seriously injured her knee, fingers, liver and kidney and was taken to hospital, where she was operated on.
“Sport was not an issue at all at that moment. The only priority was saving the injured kidney and recovering my health,” said Bentele, who won 16 medals over four Paralympic Winter Games between 1998 and 2010.
“I did not know how or even whether I would be able to return to Paralympic sport. My university studies were not going well at that time either, as having two bandaged hands meant I was unable to write, and could not concentrate well.
“It was not until two months after the accident that I spoke to my doctor again about training and potential risks.”
In mid-2009, Bentele was back on the skis but still had a long way to go until she could feel confident again.
“My first time on the skis was on a very flat ground in Munich, Germany, and I realised fear was still very deep inside me,” she said.
“The support of my family, friends and teammates was important to me. The people around me believed, encouraged and listened to me as I regained my confidence.
“But I was also motivated by finding my goal: competing at Vancouver 2010, which gave me the strength I needed for my daily physical and mental training.”
Despite the accident being a setback for her at first, the German Paralympian says that she learned many things from it.
“I learned that life always goes on, possibly with different people and a different path, and we have to find the strength within us and use it,” said Bentele.
“I then had the opportunity to focus on my abilities and travel to the Paralympic Winter Games in 2010 stronger than ever. We can learn so much from crisis, and that teaching has been extremely important in my life.”
Once in Vancouver, Bentele focused on proving herself that she could not just get back to her previous form but also outdo it.
“From the first to the fifth gold medal, Vancouver 2010 was like a dream coming true,” she said.
“I was nervous, but I had the will to win and felt a huge amount of relief and joy in every race.”
Bentele topped the podium twice in biathlon in the women's 12.5km individual and the 3km pursuit visually impaired, and three times in cross-country skiing in the 1km sprint, 5km and 15km visually impaired.
“In the biathlon, I did not perform as poorly in the shooting as I had in previous years, and when it came to the skiing I was still capable of giving it my all even in the fifth race,” she said.
“Winning the 12.5km individual was very special and something that had never done before. I shoot well and was faster than in any of the previous years.
“Those days in Vancouver were the best in my life.”
Editor’s note: “Throwback Thursday” is a feature series published on Paralympic.org twice a month, bringing you some of the top Paralympic athletes of the past.