book reviews

Once an elite gymnast, prisoner, and porn star, now she’s Simply Verona…

I don’t remember how I first heard about former Dutch elite gymnast Verona van de Leur. I like watching women’s gymnastics, but I quit being a regular viewer a long time ago. I certainly never followed Dutch gymnasts. I don’t think they were regularly featured in the United States, anyway. But somehow, I was clued in to Verona van de Leur’s rather sordid story of leaving gymnastics, only to wind up living in her car for two years, doing a stint in a Dutch prison, and becoming porn purveyor, and I decided that I needed to read her book, Simply Verona: Breaking All the Rules. This book was published in March of this year. I found it a fascinating, but very long and involved read.

In 2002, Verona van de Leur was at the top of the Dutch gymnastics scene. She was named Dutch sportswoman of the year in 2003.

Verona van de Leur, born in Gouda, South Holland, and named after the Italian city, was a gymnastics natural. She and her younger sister, Denise, both studied the discipline, but it was very obvious that Verona was born to tumble. According to her book, Verona van de Leur’s parents were very much invested in her career, and they shamed her whenever she didn’t win medals. As Verona got better and better at the sport, they and her original coach, Frank Luther, demanded more of her. One would think that a woman so gifted at a sport would want to do it, but Verona got to the point at which she hated gymnastics, despite her talent. She was forced to work out constantly, deny herself food that she loved, and submit to abuse from her parents and coaches.

Verona on the balance beam…

Naturally, the goal was for Verona to reach the Olympic Games. She met many wonderful gymnasts on the way up, including the great Romanian gymnast, Andreea Raducan, whose book I reviewed. Unfortunately, she suffered a very serious injury in Greece when a vault went horribly wrong. That vault was the beginning of her downward spiral. She very badly injured her foot and it was not properly cared for at the time. She continued to train even when she was seriously hurt because her parents and her coach wanted her to compete in the 2004 Olympics. Sadly, she missed those Games due to the injury not being properly tended to when it first happened. Verona changed coaches, exchanging The Netherlands’ top coach, Frank Luther, for a Russian coach named Boris Orlov. Boris was a better coach for her, but Verona still never made it to the Olympics.

Verona helps put the Dutch team on the map, although this particular routine had an unfortunate break.

As she struggled to recover from the serious injury, she grew to like gymnastics less and less. She was also getting older and more interested in life outside of the gym. She wanted to date. Her parents weren’t on board with letting her have that freedom, even as she became an adult. When she made noises about wanting to quit gymnastics, her parents would react with rage. Verona had a sponsor who paid her, and her parents were handling –or should I say mishandling— her money. In 2008, she finally did walk away from gymnastics. Her parents reacted by throwing her out of the house and disowning her.

A beautifully done vault.

Verona met a guy named Robbie on the Internet. He had a criminal past. Verona’s parents disapproved of him, which helped them decide to toss away their daughter. They were very resolute about their decision to throw her away, to the point of not even letting her see her grandmother or giving her a winter coat. Verona had to sneak around to see her grandma, who would sometimes slip her some money. Verona and Robbie were forced to live in a car for two years. They had to scrounge for every euro cent, and there were times when they didn’t even have enough to pay for a piss at the train station.

Verona ended up suing her parents because they had illegally taken her money and squandered it. Originally, she was awarded 1300 euros and the right to take her personal belongings, to include a laptop computer, which her father scrubbed clean before it was given to her. With the proceeds from the lawsuit, Verona bought a camera, and one day, desperate from her situation, she caught a woman cheating on her husband. In a moment of impetuousness, Verona tried to blackmail the woman for 1,000 euros.

Meanwhile, Robbie, who is half Indonesian, was allegedly racially profiled while they were playing softball at a park. He had a criminal record and was carrying a bat, so someone at the park called the police, who arrested the couple. Verona was so flexible that she was able to get out of the police car while handcuffed. Not long after that arrest, the two were arrested again for Verona’s unsuccessful attempt to blackmail the adulterous couple she happened to catch on video.

Verona spent 72 days in prison, as officials tried to also prosecute her for having child porn on her computer, which was never actually found on her machine. It was scrubbed clean of data by her father, who’d had it in his possession when the porn was supposedly put there. Verona’s description of the Dutch judicial system was very intriguing to me. I felt sad for her having gotten into this predicament, especially after she was used by her family. Verona eventually got a 90,000 euro settlement from her parents, which was paid in monthly installments. It wasn’t enough to live on, but it did help her move out of the car.

Verona tried to turn her life around by teaching gymnastics clinics and working with children. But when the news came out about her legal problems, none of the gyms wanted to work with her. She couldn’t find work, and therefore couldn’t get back to a life of “respectability”. So then she turned to the adult Web site industry, which turned out to be her permanent ticket out of poverty.

Verona van de Leur’s story is amazing, although it took me a long time to get through her book. It’s basically well written, though there are times when I can tell that English isn’t her native language. I also noticed that she has a tendency to use Internetisms like “LOL”. A good editor would have counseled her against that, although maybe it makes her more relatable to younger people.

I was actually kind of moved by her words about the people she met while working in porn. I have some experience with that world myself. Years ago, I used to be in an online community for people who enjoyed BDSM. It was not something I experimented with a lot, but I did get to know people who were into it. Most of them were perfectly normal people who were just a bit kinky. Some were very good people, with good hearts. I had some fantastic conversations with a lot of them and entertained some of them by writing erotica. In any case, Verona ended up making friends with people who were enchanted by her pay Web site. One user was a guy who had a rare disease that had killed his mother. Because of his illness, he’d never had much of a sex life, but he was a very kind person. Verona got to know him because he was a regular on her site. Sadly, he did pass away, and she was very much affected by it, even though he’d been a “customer”.

Dutch pop inspired by Verona van de Leur… wonder what Verona’s parents think now. She is still estranged from them over ten years later.

The porn industry helped Verona earn enough money to get out of the dire financial situation she was in. She is now on her feet, having spent a year and a half writing Simply Verona. She has learned from others in the adult sex industry, but she’s also gotten to know musicians and artists, having inspired Ellen ten Damme to write a song about her. She quit the adult film industry in November 2019. However, she still uses her pole dancing skills, as you can see in the above video.

I enjoyed reading Verona van de Leur’s story. She has really led a fascinating life with many twists and turns. If I weren’t in Germany, I’m not sure I would have heard of her… but I will definitely recommend her book. It’s very much an eye opener, that proves that gymnastics is a pretty tough sport wherever you are.

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