British Paralympian Ollie Hynd says he can relate to what Marieke Vervoort was going through before she died.
The Belgian wheelchair racer (also a Paralympian) chose to end her life through euthanasia because she was suffering constant pain and seizures.
Ollie has a similar neurological condition and says it’s “important that people don’t just see the medals.”
The swimmer feels people don’t fully appreciate the daily challenges faced by athletes with disabilities.
“People are inspired by Paralympians’ medals, but even getting to the starting line is incredible.”
The 24-year-old has a condition known as neuromuscular myopathy.
He won a gold medal on his Paralympic debut in London, then went on to win two more at the Rio games in 2016.
Speaking to BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat he said: “The news of Marieke’s death really hit close to home.
“It’s difficult to get your head around. I feel an enormous amount of empathy.
“Pushing yourself to the limit when you’ve got a neurological condition is so difficult. There are some days that I wake up in so much pain.”
Marieke Vervoort spoke to the BBC in 2016 about how the pain she had suffered meant she had to stop racing.
She said: “My mind says yes, go further, you still can do it. But my body cries, says help, stop training, you break me.”
Ollie agrees that balancing a rigorous training schedule with a debilitating illness can make it very hard.
“What is takes for your body to train is really difficult, when you’ve got a neurological condition it really can take it out of you.
“I’ve had two really tough days of training and today honestly I feel ill. That’s the reality of the situation.”
Reflecting on how Marieke coped with that, he said she was “an absolute warrior”.
“I think she’s so strong for not only excelling in a sport, but kind of just getting through day-to-day living.
“It’s important that people hear her story and are inspired by her spirit, that she carried on and was so strong for so long.
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“And something that I’m really inspired by is everything was in her control. And I think she had a really, really positive look on what was a really difficult situation.”
A BBC poll conducted by ComRes after the 2012 Paralympic Games suggested 79% of non-disabled people think attitudes changed towards people with disabilities afterwards.
Ollie is pleased about that but said he hopes that people who were inspired by those athletes understand the “full story”.
He said that Marieke’s own story shows that it “takes a toll on not only the body but the mind”.
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