Above, Lisa Verschueren performs for the last time just one day before being diagnosed with a serious heart condition.
Most competitive elite gymnasts get to choose when they retire. Lisa Verschueren of Belgium, just 20 years old, didn’t have that luxury.
On Sunday, Verschueren was studying at home, a day after headlining the annual Gymgala in Antwerp, when she realized she didn’t feel well. She sought medical treatment and was immediately hospitalized with a heart condition, thought to be a congenital abnormality. It’s something she could live with under normal circumstances, but not as a high-performing elite gymnast.
Verschueren is on a defibrillator now and will soon undergo surgery to correct the defect, but doctors advised against her returning to the gym. While it was a difficult decision for Verschueren and her family, it was a necessary one, and she has officially retired from gymnastics. It seems impossible that one day she could be performing the sport she loves in front of a crowd of supporters and the next told she can never do gymnastics again. In an instant, her years of training and dreams of the Olympic Games are over.
Over the past two seasons, Verschueren – who trained at Topsportcentrum Gent – had really started to come into her own. While she joined the senior ranks in 2011 and has been named to almost every major team since then, she took some time to grow as an elite gymnast. As she got older, she really began to shine, and started capturing great attention beginning with her national all-around title win in 2014.
At worlds this year, she was Belgium’s strongest performer, outscoring veteran Gaelle Mys and last year’s young star Laura Waem in qualifications before finishing 17th overall with a score of 55.299 in the all-around final. Though beam was something of an issue for her all year, she hit when it counted in Glasgow to bring in the two best beam scores of her career, and her consistency made her someone her country would want to rely on heavily in the coming months as they prepare to challenge for one of four final Olympic team spots at the test event in April.
Bars was Verschueren’s favorite event, and in recent years, she literally never ever fell there in competition. She also had a knack for performing on floor, making it into the event finals at the European Games in Azerbaijan this summer where her dramatic, expressive, and beautifully choreographed routine earned fourth place, behind the Games’ biggest stars Giulia Steingruber, Aliya Mustafina, and Lieke Wevers.
Lisa’s beautiful performance on floor in Baku
Throughout her senior career, Verschueren competed as part of four world championships and three European championships teams in addition to traveling around the world to perform at multiple FIG world challenge cups and international friendly meets.
Verschueren will be incredibly missed by fans as well as her teammates, and while Belgium still has a bright 2016 ahead of them thanks to some exciting upcoming new seniors, it won’t be quite the same without Verschueren’s level-headed demeanor, brilliant performances, and incredible passion for the sport.
We wish her the best of luck in her future, and hope her surgery next week is a successful one.
Article by Lauren Hopkins