Photo of Virtus Academy Manager

New Virtus appointment will help make the invisible – visible, through research and education.

Virtus is delighted to welcome its newest member to the team. 

Ms. Debbie van Biesen joins as the Virtus Academy Managera new initiative to develop a global hub of research, training and education to be launched in 2021. 

After seven years of full-time postdoctoral research at KU Leuven (Belgium), Debbie will divide her time across both organisations, leveraging on international, and evidenced-based knowledge of elite athletes with intellectual disability and autism. She has published more than 25 peer-reviewed scientific articles in top journals in her field.  

Debbie said her most important value is being able to generate impact with her work and helping to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.  

“I am excited to join Virtus and to apply my life’s work to generate advancements in the pursuit of greater access and development of sports pathways for athletes with an intellectual impairment,” she said. 

Virtus Executive Director, Nick Parr, said the appointment of the Virtus Academy Manager is part of Virtus’ next four-year strategic plan and a demonstration of the global effort to raise awareness and grow opportunities for elite athletes with an intellectual impairment. 

“I congratulate and welcome Debbie to Virtus. Her experience as part of KU Leuven is highly valued towards raising the profile of the eligibility and classifications for athletes with an intellectual impairment.” 

Debbie specialised in the domains of ‘Adapted Physical Activity’ and ‘Disability Sport’. The focus of her research was on the role of cognition on sports performance, among elite Paralympic athletes with intellectual disabilities. 

During her PhD, she contributed to the development of evidence-based classification systems for elite athletes with intellectual disability (ID), that led to their re-inclusion in the Paralympic Games. Afterward, she was appointed as the coordinator of the “International Research and Development Centre for Classification of Athletes with Intellectual Impairments”, which was officially recognised by the International Paralympic Committee. In that position, she coordinated a collaborative network of national and international research groups and representatives of sports organisations, to perform cutting-edge research with an impact on society. 

Debbie has broad expertise as a researcher, beyond evidence-based classification. She was involved in numerous projects related to coaching para-athletes, psychosocial aspects of disabilities, health-enhancing physical activity, and performance optimisation.  

Besides research in the field of adapted physical activity, she is also passionate about teaching & coaching. She is an experienced teacher, with expertise in academic settings (Bachelor Rehabilitation Sciences, Master Physical Education and Movement Sciences, International Master Adapted Physical Activity) and non-academic settings (Flemish Trainers School, Center of Adapted Sports).