Verena Bentele with five gold medalsLMU's paralympic golden girl
by Elizabeth Willoughby

She just won five gold medals at the 2010 Paralympic Games, but German biathlon champion, Verena Bentele, isn't quite finished. She's considering the next Paralympic games and even 2018's if they come to Munich. What drives people to such excellence?

The Making of a Paralympic Champion

Verena Bentele isn't the most typical of university students. For one thing, she's blind. For another, she just brought home five gold medals from the Paralympic Games held at Whistler, British Columbia in Canada last March. She's trying to finish up her last year of Modern German Literature studies at LMU so she can get on with her second career – coaching of another kind.

Training in sports at the highest level during university studies, and with requests for interviews and television appearances that keep coming, Bentele sounds like a woman in overdrive, but it becomes easier to understand this 28-year-old's attitude by taking a closer look at her beginnings. Born in Lindau and growing up near Germany's Lake Constance, during Verena's childhood it was normal for her and her two older brothers, one also blind from birth, to ride around on bicycles, play around their farm without constant supervision, and go on family ski outings. It wasn't until she was five years old and attending kindergarten that she realized she was somehow different, because her parents never let on that she was anything but normal.

"My family is responsible for my success in way I couldn't describe," she says.

A sports enthusiast from the beginning, this petite, blonde powerhouse tried judo, horseback riding and cycling before she settled on biathlon at age 11. The skills required of the two sports that make up the biathlon (shooting and skiing) contrasted in a way she could appreciate: the silent hand at the shooting range and the physical conditioning, power and technique of skiing. Competition was a motivation for her, and early success in biathlon created a desire for high-level achievement.

"I like to have pressure and compete against others. I like to go beyond my own limits. I have the desire to do things a little better in every training session and competition. For me, it is not just the medal that is the victory; the victory is to know that I did a good job myself, within my team and with my trainer."

Outside the Paralympic Arena

Despite her many successes in sports, Verena is still a young woman who must etch out a future for herself – athletic achievements might be eternal in the record books, but athletic careers don't tend to last forever. Until now, Bentele hasn't let blindness define her path, but it has been influential. Over the past few years she has found a way to combine all the major elements in her life with her open, unobtrusive friendliness and good communication skills in a surprising way: by sharing them with others.

Since 2006, Verena has been going into businesses to give motivational seminars. She speaks about her own struggles, successes and the experience she has gained through sports in order to demonstrate the parallels between sport and business.

"It is important to learn that to trust others can help a lot to work effectively," she says. Trust is a fundamental element in all aspects of Bentele's life, but is no more obvious than when watching her ski. "It is difficult to find a good guide."

Goals are another parallel she draws between the sport and corporate worlds: "Clear priorities help to motivate employees to achieve the goals of a company. This is what I do. [I outline my priorities] with my guide, family and others in order to reach my goals in competition."

A Star With Her Feet On The Ground

Now that Bentele has been recognized as the best in the world in her chosen discipline, it is difficult to imagine what a next goal could be for her. Nevertheless, she already has plans set. She wants to work as a motivational coach and in public relations. "I want to give my skills to people who need them. Not especially to one group. It could be in business or in sports, but not specifically for blind people."

Besides goals that are solid and realistic, Bentele has yet another Olympic desire: "I dream that one day the Olympic and Paralympic games will not just be at the same place – it would be wonderful if they would be at the same time."

Originally published at insightLMU, June 2010

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