A Belgian Paralympic champion wheelchair racer and sometimes euthanasia campaigner expressed her delight at making her dream Japan visit a reality.
Marieke Vervoort said in a recent interview in Tokyo she wanted to come to Japan ever since she started learning jujitsu when she was in her teens.
Despite suffering from a degenerative spinal disease that makes travel difficult, the 37-year-old Vervoort said she is currently in good health. However, with her future uncertain she wants to experience as much as she can, while she still can.
Vervoort has penned an autobiography and she is also planning to open a museum where she will display her race wheelchairs, race records and other paraphernalia, she said.
She has won four Olympic medals, including gold in the London 2012 T52 wheelchair category 100 meters and silver in the 200 meters.
Using a profile built through her exploits in Paralympic sports, Vervoort began a serious conversation on the topic of euthanasia at the Rio Paralympics when she revealed she had signed paperwork to allow a doctor to end her life.
After winning silver and bronze medals in Rio and then announcing her retirement, she made worldwide headlines when reports emerged that she would begin proceedings to end her life soon after, something she immediately quashed.
But she did not shy away from the topic, using the platform to provide perspective.
Speaking in Tokyo, she said she signed the euthanasia papers to give herself the option to end her own life, something that has provided her with peace of mind.
“Without those papers, I think I would be depressed because you live in that (limbo), unsure about what’s going to happen next,” she said. “I don’t want to quit (life) now, but with (euthanasia) papers I have it in my own hands. It’s enough, I can say now is the moment, that’s truly important.”
Diagnosed as a teenager with a progressive spinal condition that resulted in paraplegia, she signed euthanasia documents in 2008 in Belgium — the second country in the world to permit euthanasia by law.
“The message I want to give to every country is that euthanasia is not murder … it gives people a kind of a feeling of (peace) in mind because they know when it’s too hard, they have a way out and it’s going to be very softly. You choose your people to be with and it’s going very softly, you can say goodbye.”
Although she will not compete in the Tokyo Paralympics, her experience gives her a unique perspective on the city’s level of preparedness for the games, and it is not a five-star review for the 2020 host.
“I think everywhere is the same, the same problem,” said Vervoort about the challenge stairs provide to wheelchair access. “Here it’s really extreme. … I couldn’t even go (into) one shop because it was made with two steps (up). When you are just alone standing over there, you can’t get in.”
Despite the challenges of travel around Japan, Vervoort is not going to let it slow her down. Her two-week trip was scheduled to include a meeting with fellow Rio Paralympian Yuka Kiyama in Hiroshima and visits to tourist spots in Kyoto, Osaka and the hot springs resort of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture.
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