Belgian Paralympic gold medallist Marieke Vervoort has ended her life via euthanasia at age 40.
Vervoort, who won gold and silver medals at the London 2012 Paralympics, plus two further medals at Rio 2016, announced two years ago she was planning to end her life as the pain of her incurable degenerative spinal disease became increasingly difficult to bear.
The condition, called progressive tetraplegia, caused Marieke to be in constant pain, with seizures and paralysis in her legs as well as inhibiting her ability to sleep – some nights she would only get 10 minutes shuteye.
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, and a statement from Vervoort’s home city of Diest confirmed the athlete’s death, saying she had ‘responded to her choice on Tuesday evening,’ October 22. Vervoort had signed paperwork in 2008 that would allow doctors to end her life.
Talking about her final days, Vervoort’s friend Eric Goens told Radio 2 West Flanders, via Mirror Online:
As far as I can call it beautiful, it was a very beautiful, serene farewell, in peace. She has experienced it very consciously, with all the joy and tears that go with it. She realised very hard that this really was the end. You kept noticing until the last minute that although there was a relief, it was a raw sadness.
it go's with up and downs. Zenn is the name of my loveley dog pic.twitter.com/HvAByMfo6B
— Marieke Vervoort (@Wielemie) February 14, 2017
Vervoort also battled epileptic seizures. In 2014, she had one while cooking pasta and ended up spilling boiling water over her legs, resulting in a four-month hospital stay.
Luckily, she had her loyal Labrador named Zenn, who would warn her when a seizure was about to occur, along with pulling socks out her drawer and helping her with shopping. Vervoort said: ‘When I’m going to have an epileptic attack, she warns me one hour before. I don’t know how she feels it.’
As reported by Metro, Vervoort had previously spoken about her support for euthanasia:
It’s too hard for my body. Each training I’m suffering because of pain. Every race I train hard. Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me. I push so hard – to push literally all my fear and everything away.
I’m really scared, but those [euthanasia] papers give me a lot of peace of mind because I know when it’s enough for me, I have those papers. If I didn’t have those papers, I think I’d have done suicide already. I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia… I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer.
I feel different about death now than years ago. For me I think death is something like they operate on you, you go to sleep and you never wake up. For me it’s something peaceful.
Vervoort won gold in the T52 100m wheelchair race at London 2012, as well as silver in the T52 200m. Four years later, at the Rio Paralympics, she won silver in the T51/52 400m and bronze in T51/52 100m.
In her final Instagram post, she wrote: ‘Can’t forget the good memories!’
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.