Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort has ended her own life through euthanasia at the age of 40.
Vervoort, who won gold and silver at the London 2012 Paralympics, and two further medals at Rio 2016, had an incurable degenerative muscle disease.
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium and in 2008 Vervoort signed papers which would one day allow a doctor to end her life.
A statement from her home city of Diest said Vervoort “responded to her choice on Tuesday evening”.
‘Racing was a medication’
Vervoort’s disease caused constant pain, seizures, paralysis in her legs and left her barely able to sleep.
In an extensive interview with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Eleanor Oldroyd in 2016 she said: “It can be that I feel very, very bad, I get an epileptic attack, I cry, I scream because of pain. I need a lot of painkillers, valium, morphine.
“A lot of people ask me how is it possible that you can have such good results and still be smiling with all the pain and medication that eats your muscles. For me, sports, and racing with a wheelchair – it’s a kind of medication.”
Vervoort won gold in the T52 100m wheelchair race at London 2012 as well as silver in the T52 200m wheelchair race.
At the Rio Paralympics she claimed silver in the T51/52 400m and bronze in T51/52 100m.
Asked about the fact she had signed euthanasia papers, after the Rio Paralympics she told the BBC: “It gives a feeling of rest to people. I know when it’s enough for me, I have those papers.”
The city of Diest said a book of condolence will be accessible in its town hall from Wednesday.
Frank conversations about death
She was a remarkable champion, on and off the track. She was outrageously funny and full of life, but I’ve never had such frank conversations about death with anyone.
Somehow, though, those conversations weren’t depressing; she had accepted her time on earth would be shorter than many, but she was determined to wring every last drop of fun out of it that she could.
We drank cava on a beautiful summer’s evening; she was still able to enjoy the good moments, but they were becoming less frequent.
Her friend Lieve told us then she thought she might have another six months, maybe a year. That was two years ago.
I hope and pray that, when the end came, it was a soft and beautiful death, as she wished.