Paralympian prepared with euthanasia papers to take own life

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Marieke Vervoort lives with nearly unbroken pain. The Belgian has an incurable, degenerative spinal disease, sleeps only 10 minutes some nights, and in 2008 she signed euthanasia papers so she can decide when to end her own life.

The 37-year-old Paralympian is prepared to die, but not now. Back home, newspapers have been reporting the wheelchair racer intends to kill herself after the Paralympics end next weekend.

“I think there is a great mistake about what the press told in Belgium,” Vervoort said Sunday, speaking in English and surrounded by reporters wanting to hear her compelling story.

“This is totally out of the question,” she added. “When the day comes, when I have more bad days than good days – I have my euthanasia papers. But the time is not there yet.”

This is Vervoort’s last Paralympics. She won silver Saturday night in the T52 400 meters, adding to the gold and silver medals she won four years ago in London. Her last wheelchair race will be Saturday at 100 meters.

She’s shown her will to live by tackling tough training, and it’s also helped keep her alive. But she has to give it up, as she has other things, as her body has broken down.

Her pain is so severe at times that she loses consciousness, and she said the sight of her in pain has caused others to pass out.

“It’s too hard for my body,” Vervoort said. “Each training I’m suffering because of pain. Every race I train hard. Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me. I push so hard – to push literally all my fear and everything away.”

Vervoort is a strong advocate of the right to choose euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium. Like training hard, she said it gives her the control and “puts my own life in my hands.”

“I’m really scared, but those (euthanasia) papers give me a lot of peace of mind because I know when it’s enough for me, I have those papers,” she said.

“If I didn’t have those papers, I think I’d have done suicide already. I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia. … I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer.”

Vervoort said getting the papers was difficult, requiring examinations by several doctors who looked at her mental and physical state. She said it’s not like having the flu.

“You only get those papers when there is no way back,” she said.

As her body withers, she needs a helper to visit four times daily. She suffers from epileptic seizures, and had one in 2014 when she was cooking pasta and spilled boiling water over her legs. That resulted in a four-month hospital stay.

A beloved Labrador named Zenn now stays with her, pawing her when a seizure is about to occur. Zenn also pulls her socks out of the sock drawer, and helps carry groceries home when Vervoort buys too much.

“When I’m going to have an epileptic attack, she warns me one hour before,” Vervoort said. “I don’t know how she feels it.”

Vervoort said she keeps pushing back the day of her death, knowing it could come anytime – as it can for anyone. She said she can be pain-free one minute, and nearly pass out a few minutes later.

“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.”

Vervoort calls herself a “crazy lady.” She still hopes to fly in an F-16 fighter jet, ride in a rally car, and she’s curating a museum of her life going back to at least 14 when she was diagnosed with her rare illness. She also gives inspirational speeches, has picked out a singer for her wake, and says everyone will drink champagne, and not be bored with coffee and cake.

She wants to be remembered as the lady who was “always laughing, always smiling.”

“I feel different about death now than years ago,” Vervoort said. “For me I think death is something like they operate on you, you go to sleep and you never wake up. For me it’s something peaceful.”

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.