Face of Flanders: Marieke Vervoort


Wheelchair racer and gold medallist Marieke Vervoort has been named a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown by King Filip

Paralympic athlete receives Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown

King Filip has only been in the job for a few months, so he’s undoubtedly less experienced in giving awards than Marieke Vervoort is in receiving them. Last week she was in Brussels to receive the title of Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown from the new king.

Vervoort is the Paralympic athlete who lifted the country’s spirits in September last year when she took the silver medal in the 200m wheelchair race for women, coming second to the Canadian Michelle Stillwell and ahead of the American Kerry Morgan. Four days later she picked up gold in the 100m sprint, this time defeating the two North Americans.

Vervoort, nicknamed Wielemie, was born in Diest, Flemish Brabant, in 1979, and at the age of 15 was diagnosed with a rare degenerative muscle condition that soon put her in a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down. Despite that she played basketball and began her athletic career proper in triathlon, winning world championships in 2006 and 2007, and taking part in Ironman Hawaii in 2007.  However, deterioration in her condition made the gruelling triathlon training impossible and she had to retire. Instead she took up first blokart – a sort of land yacht – and later wheelchair racing. The medals and other prizes started flowing again, for marathons and world and European championships.

In July this year she fell during a race in Lyon in France and injured her shoulder. The following month she underwent a serious operation on her shoulder and arm, and had to pull out of the 100m sprint organised for her benefit as part of the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels. After a 10-day break in Lanzarote she was faced with nine months to a year of revalidation therapy to return to form. She intends to try for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Getting to Rio in absolute top form is my mission now,” she said at the time. “Whatever it takes.”

For her visit to the palace in Brussels this week she was accompanied, as always, by her dog Zenn, who began as a pet and was later trained as a help-dog. “Without him I’m much too dependent on other people,” she said. “Zenn makes it possible for me to function completely independently, but he’s also an indispensable companion.”



photo credit: DirkV/Wikimedia Commons