Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Gold medal-winning Paralympian Marieke Vervoort -- who finished first in track events at the international competitions in 2012 and 2016 -- died under a legal euthanasia law in Belgium Tuesday night, after saying for years her worsening degenerative condition was making life increasingly difficult. She was 40.
Physicians euthanized Vervoort in her hometown of Diest, municipal officials announced.
For years, the athlete said her degenerative spinal condition was causing her great pains and making it almost impossible for her to sleep. No drugs or treatments were available to help.
Vervoort first won approval to be euthanized in 2008 in Belgium, where it is legal for physicians to end suffering by aiding patients who want to die. She said she planned to end her life years ago, but her excellence in sports kept postponing her death.
Vervoort won gold and silver medals at the London Paralympic Games in 2012 and silver and bronze medals in Rio de Janeiro four years later. She retired from sports a short time later. In the years after, she spent more time with family and her trained dog, Zenn -- who she said could warn her an hour before the onset of epileptic seizures.
"I'm really scared, but those [euthanasia] papers give me a lot of peace of mind," she said in 2016. "Because I know when it's enough for me, I have those papers.
"I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer."
Vervoort said her condition, on many nights, only allowed her to sleep for a few minutes at a time.
"You have to live day-by-day and enjoy the little moments," she said. "Everybody tomorrow can have a car accident and die, or a heart attack and die. It can be tomorrow for everybody."