The news reached Annelieke on Sunday morning, 9 September, around 10. A mutual friend called her up in tears: Julie had died a few hours earlier in a road accident in her home town of Sittard, after cycling home after a party. “I remember having all these questions, which of course she didn’t know the answers too either. After hanging up, I just sat there on the couch, saying ‘this isn’t possible,’ over and over again. You’re completely dazed for the rest of the week. It doesn’t really register. It only sinks in bit by bit. Particularly after seeing Julie at her parents’ place later in the week. At the wake, you finally understand that this has really happened – although this is completely different to the realisation that she’s gone for good. There’s a long road in between.”
Of course, she felt angry. And she still does. “Who gets in a car full of booze and drugs? And then starts speeding too? How could anyone be such an idiot? How can you live with yourself? It’s difficult to accept how she died. Someone is snatched away in the prime of her life, at a time when she was happier than ever. That makes it even harder. I think it’s different to when someone is very ill, or old. At least that gives you time to say goodbye. In this case, you expect to see each other next Thursday on the café terrace, and swap stories about your holidays. Suddenly, this is no longer possible.”
Annelieke and Julie met in September 2015, during their first year as medical students. They were in the same study group. As often with a budding friendship, Annelieke can’t pinpoint the exact moment it started. You sit next to each other during a lecture every now and then; grab lunch together; run into each other at a party. And all of a sudden, you’re best buds and agree to team up for the MFVR gala. You meet to eat and doll up together first. Annelieke slept at Julie’s after the party.
“Julie was a very sweet girl. She was still young – she went off to study at 17. During the gala, she had to wear one of those fluorescent yellow wristbands so they wouldn’t serve her alcohol.” Annelieke is thinking back to the gala of 2015. “She may have been young but with a lot of things she was worldlier than I was. I didn’t really drink alcohol at the time. And I had no idea that you could flirt with boys.”
Whenever they hung out together, they tended to have pizza for dinner. Home-made that is. Well, they didn’t make the dough because that was too complicated. And the roll-out dough that you can get at the supermarket didn’t always turn out right, so they eventually started using Turkish bread for the base. Topped with loads of cheese. If it were up to Julie, the pizza included at least three kinds of different cheese. After that, they often watched Flikken Maastricht – Julie loved that show – with Ben & Jerry’s for dessert. Little things that become a habit without you realising it. Traditions that you only recognise as such after the fact.
When a lecture was scheduled early in the morning, their group of friends often kept a spot free for Julie. “Because she was always late. And if the lecture was boring, she’d chatter straight through it.” Which isn’t to say Julie didn’t take her studies seriously. During exam weeks, she would hole up in the library more or less straight out of bed, and after it closed for the day, she would continue studying at home.
“She would resit just about every exam you could resit in the Medicine programme,” remembers Annelieke. “But she kept pushing on regardless. If I were her, I would have said at some point in the second year ‘I give up, guys – it’s too much work, or too hard’. The fact that Julie didn’t throw in the towel says a lot about her character. She worked incredibly hard, and did loads of other things besides studying. She was on committees, she was a coach at Skadi, she had tons of friends in Rotterdam and a large group of friends back in Sittard. Some weeks, the only reason she went home was basically to sleep.”
Waiting before she could start on her clinical rotation, Julie decided to go to Austria for a while. A well-earned break, since she had gone to Uni directly after graduating from school at 17 and had spent the following years working hard to earn her bachelor degree. Her big dream was to become a ski instructor, so she had arranged to teach beginners in Austria that winter. Annelieke doesn’t ski herself, but they had agreed that she would visit Julie over the Christmas holidays so she could teach her. Now that it’s ski season again, with friends and acquaintances discussing their trip to the mountains, she thinks of Julie even more often.
Just like when she’s training for the marathon. She occasionally passes Julie’s former student house during her rounds. “It’s still hard to accept that I can’t just drop by for a chat. Sometimes it’s a nice feeling to remember Julie for a moment; other times it cuts like a knife.”
She had been playing with the idea of running a marathon again for some time now. In 2017, she did the marathons of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, but she had slacked off a bit after that. “After everything that had happened, it wasn’t long before I told Julie’s parents ‘I would like to run the marathon for Julie – and connect it to a cause that you believe would suit her.” They really liked the thought of this.”
And this cause ended up being Stichting Innovatie Distributie Voorlichting Orgaandonatie (SIDVO), a foundation that develops public information and teaching materials about organ donation and studies the impact of the Netherlands’ new organ donation legislation. Julie did a project about organ donation when she was still in secondary school. And as a student, she didn’t hesitate to debate with fellow students who hadn’t registered as a donor. “She thought this was important to do. Not so much to persuade people to take a particular course but to get them thinking.”
Forty-two unpredictable kilometres
Julie’s last wish was to become an organ donor. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. She was left lying by the road for too long. This way, her wish can still be honoured, to an extent.” It took Annelieke three days to raise the target figure of 2,000 euro. “Anything that comes in on top of this is a bonus.”
She would like to run the marathon in under four hours. “That’s rather ambitious though. And I would like to keep running – not drop to a walking pace at any point. Still, we’re talking about 42 unpredictable kilometres. The thing I dread most is the final stretch: the last 10 kilometres, which you can’t really train for. That’s when you’re basically thrown back on yourself – which means I’ll be meeting Julie too. Of course, nothing like this was on my mind during the marathon two years ago. I hope it will give me the extra strength to keep going – precisely because I’m doing it for Julie this time round.”
If you’re interested in sponsoring Annelieke’s run, please visit her fundraising page. This is also where she will be posting updates on the campaign and how her trainings are going.