In 2008, Marieke Vervoort was handed documents that spelled the end of her life. She wasn’t fearful of them; in fact, they brought her a sense of peace. Because those pieces of paper gave her the power to choose when that would come, and how it would come.
This week, 11 years on, she made that choice.
The 40-year-old Belgian athlete died by voluntary euthanasia on Tuesday in the city of Diest, after decades living with an incurable, degenerative muscle disease.
The wheelchair racing champion was diagnosed at the age of 14. She lived with paralysis in her legs, constant excruciating pain that left her barely able to sleep, that made her scream so loudly she would wake her neighbours. In recent years, she also experienced deteriorating vision and regular epileptic seizures.
Her condition was one that she felt would eventually become unendurable. That the bad days would swallow the good. In 2008, she obtained approval from doctors to access euthanasia.
But still, Marieke focussed on the present.
She threw herself into sport; wheelchair basketball, swimming, triathlons. At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, she won gold in the T52 100m wheelchair race and silver in the 200m. She followed with a 400m silver and 100m bronze in Rio four years later.
It was then, at a press conference, that Marieke announced her plans to retire and, ultimately, end her life.