Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort died by euthanasia on Tuesday aged 40, following through on a promise to herself 11 years ago.
Her death comes after a lifelong battle with an incurable and degenerative spinal condition.
Vervoort, who won Paralympic gold in the 200 metres wheelchair race in the London Games in 2012, had signed euthanasia papers in 2008 in Belgium, where it is legal, and died in accordance with her wishes early on Wednesday (Australian time).
Vervoort, who also won silver medals in London and at Rio in 2016, was diagnosed with the painful condition as a teenager and retired from competition after the Rio Games. She advocated dialogue on assisted dying in countries around the world.
The Belgian royal palace tweeted their condolences, noting “Marieke ‘Wielemie’ Vervoort was a strong athlete and a great lady. Her death touches us deeply. Strength to her family and friends.”
Marieke ‘Wielemie’ Vervoort was een ijzersterke atlete en grootse dame. Haar overlijden raakt ons diep. Sterkte aan haar familie en vrienden.
Profondément attristés par le décès de l’athlète paralympique Marieke Vervoort. Toutes nos pensées vont à sa famille et ses proches. pic.twitter.com/A5KLEDdk8E
— Belgian Royal Palace (@MonarchieBe) October 22, 2019
The town of Diest in northern Belgium, where Vervoort was born, set up a book of condolence and carried a long message on its website about the woman it called “our Wielemie”, a reference to the wheels of her wheelchair.
“Despite her physical limitations she had a impressive sporting career,” the town said. “Marieke chose euthanasia a few years ago and followed through on her choice on Tuesday evening.”
Local poet Kristien Nys also penned some lines to the “silver-plated, gold-plated” Vervoort with an iron will and “angelic patience”. Vervoort’s smile would no longer be seen.
“But your pain is also gone, you have done your last lap, you have waited long enough, your big battle has been fought.”