She lived in constant pain due to an incurable, degenerative spinal disease.

By Rachel DeSantis
October 24, 2019
Warren Little/Getty

Paralympic champion Marieke Vervoort, recipient of a gold medal in wheelchair racing, died through legal euthanasia in her native Belgium on Tuesday. She was 40.

Vervoort’s death was announced in a statement released by her home city of Diest, which explained that she signed for euthanasia several years ago, and “responded to her choice” Tuesday night.

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The Olympic athelete lived in constant pain due to an incurable, degenerative spinal disease, and also suffered epileptic seizures, the Associated Press reported.

“It can be that I feel very, very bad, I get an epileptic attack, I cry, I scream because of pain,” she told the BBC in 2016. “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 kind of a medication.”

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The athlete later told The Telegraph in 2017 that she had trouble sleeping at night, and had nearly lost her eyesight.

Vervoort received approval for euthanasia, or assisted suicide, in 2008, a decision she said gave her “a lot of peace of mind,” the AP reported.

“I have those papers. If I didn’t have those papers, I think I’d have done suicide already,” she said. “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 retired from competing in 2016 after it became too difficult on her body and spent much of her time with family, friends and her service Labrador Zenn, who was able to sense when she was about to have a seizure, CNN reported.

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“Marieke ‘Wielemie’ Vervoort was an athlete tough as nails and a great lady,” her family said in a statement, according to AP. “Her death touches us deeply.”

Vervoort competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro, respectively. She won a gold medal in London, and a silver and bronze in Rio, according to a statement from the Belgian Paralympic Team.

Euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2002, according to Reuters. Other countries where it’s legal include the Netherlands, Colombia and Luxembourg.

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