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Getting the most out of life, Paralympian fulfills Japanese dream

A Belgian Paralympic medalist wheelchair racer and sometimes
euthanasia campaigner expressed her delight Monday at making her
dream Japan visit a reality.

Marieke Vervoort said in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo
that she has aspired to come to Japan ever since she started learning
the Japanese martial art of 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, but with her future uncertain she wants to experience as
much as she can, while she still can.

Vervoort has penned an autobiography which is due for release
soon and will contain a section on her travels, and she is also
planning to open a museum where she will display her race
wheelchairs, race records and other paraphernalia, she said.

She won a total of four Paralympic 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 sport,
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 in
order 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 at 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 Olympic and Paralympic 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 go (into) not even 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 will include a
meeting with fellow Rio Paralympian Yuka Kiyama in Hiroshima on May 2
and visits to tourist spots in Kyoto, Osaka and the hot spring resort
of Hakone. (April 24)


Marieke Vervoort, a Belgian Paralympic medalist
wheelchair racer, is interviewed by Kyodo News in
Tokyo on April 24, 2017. The 37-year-old Vervoort
expressed her delight at making her dream Japan visit
a reality.