Paralympian athlete Marieke Vervoort made the most out of her life—and ended it at a time of her choosing. The 40-year-old died Tuesday by euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium. Vervoort, who won the 100 meters gold and 200 meters silver medals in wheelchair racing at the London Paralympics in 2012 and silver and bronze at Rio 2016, lived in constant pain from an incurable, degenerative muscle disease, the AP reports. She said in a 2016 interview that the pain was so severe she sometimes only slept 10 minutes in a night. "Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me," she said. "I push so hard—to push literally all my fear and everything away." Vervoort, who was diagnosed with the disease at age 14, was hospitalized for four months in 2014 after spilling boiling water on herself during a seizure.
Vervoort was a passionate defender of the right to die. She signed the euthanasia papers in 2008 and said in 2016 that having them gave her the strength to carry on. "If I didn't have those papers, I think I'd have done suicide already," she said. "I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer." BBC interviewer Eleanor Oldroyd says Vervoort was "outrageously funny and full of life." She says Vervoort often spoke of death, but "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." Oldroyd adds: "I hope and pray that, when the end came, it was a soft and beautiful death, as she wished." (Read more euthanasia stories.)