Belgium's Out Paralympian Is Not Planning to Die Right After Rio Games

Marieke Vervoort won gold for this race during the 2012 Paralympic Games in London
Marieke Vervoort won gold for this race during the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

An out paralympian from Belgium announced that the 2016 Paralympic Games will be her last — but she has several tasks on her to-do list before she voluntarily ends her life. 

A July article from French newspaper Le Parisien reported that lesbian athlete Marieke Vervoort is “very seriously considering” euthanasia after the 2016 Games. 

But in a video interview late last month with Belgian outlet De Redactie, Vervoort says she “never said I’m going to commit euthanasia after Rio.” 

“I’m going to stop [racing] after Rio and try to enjoy the little moments,” the wheelchair sprinter continued in Dutch last month. “I have a whole bucket list. But I [will] not live like a plant.” 

On the eve of today’s opening ceremonies at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Vervoort said she does not have immediate plans to end her life. But knowing that euthanasia is an option for her has helped her find peace, she told the sports section of government-run newspaper De Redactie. 

“Wheeling has always been a kind of medicine to handle everything,” she said, referring to her sport as a coping mechanism to deal with her degenerative spinal disease. “I want to get even, once everything is out of my body, and as hard as I can, knock on my wheels. All my fears and frustrations fade away [when I’m racing].”

The 37-year-old athlete won three titles at the world championships last year in Qatar, and took home a gold and a silver medal for Belgium at the 2012 London Paralympics. She will compete in the women’s 100- and 400-meter sprints in Rio.

Back in July, Vervoort told the sports section of De Redactie that only after she completes her bucket list (which includes “stunt flying”), she will “gradually … think of my euthanasia.” 

She made similar comments to Le Parisien in late July, detailing her ongoing struggle. “Everybody sees me laugh with my gold medal, but no one sees the dark side,” she told the French newspaper. “I suffer greatly, sometimes sleeping only 10 minutes a night — and still go for the gold.”

But in Wednesday’s article from her homeland’s primary news outlet, Vervoort explained that she has had papers in place to secure her euthanasia since 2008. Sometimes called assisted suicide, euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002. Residents must receive written permission from three doctors to voluntarily end their life in this manner. 

“Thanks to those papers I still live, and I can enjoy every little moment,” Vervoort told De Redactie’s Sporza section Wednesday. “I think otherwise I would have committed suicide long ago, if I’m being honest.”

But that doesn’t mean Rio’s closing ceremonies September 18 will signal the end for Vervoort, she promised. “I have a whole bucket list after Rio,” she explained Wednesday. “I’m going to retire and I’ll [make up for] the time with my family and friends that I was intensively training. I have neglected them a little,” she admits. 

Vervoort has been diagnosed with an incurable degenerative muscular disease, and she has used a wheelchair exclusively since 2002. Her Facebook page is peppered with photos of her loyal service dog, a yellow Labrador who has been trained to detect when Vervoort is about to have a fainting spell. 

“I will stop my career after Rio,” Vervoort told Belgian newspaper L’Avenir last month. “After, we’ll see what life brings me, and I’ll try to enjoy my best moments. … Despite my illness, I have experienced things that others can only dream of.”

“Rio is my last wish,” she concluded to L’Avenir. “I train very hard even if I have to fight day and night against my disease."

Vervoort is one of nine out LGBT athletes competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games, according to U.K. LGBT outlet Pink News.

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