Abbott Spotlight On Health

Always look on the bright side

“It has been 21 years since my first spinal cord surgery and I am just happy and grateful to be alive.”

Dr Bryon Solberg, aged 59 from San Diego, has 200 marathons under his belt - all since learning to walk again and with little to no feeling below his shoulders.

In 1999, the successful anesthesiologist – whose work relied on his hands and fine motor skills – started having issues that were finally diagnosed and led to two major surgeries on his spinal cord.

“I had to give up my career at the start of 2000 which had been my life so I lost a large part of my identity. I decided to move from Oregon back to San Diego to start rebuilding my life.”

It was at this point that Bryan took on some simple part-time jobs to keep busy and he started coaching junior baseball. Reconnecting with sports helped give him some of his confidence back.

Defying the odds on his way to another marathon completion

“I had such a lot of fun working with the kids and being active in some way that I wanted to challenge myself in sport. I had always been sporty but never a runner so I decided, while still in a neck collar, that I would walk a marathon and from there I started running one a month.”

Bryan currently averages one marathon every two weeks!

“I run a marathon in intervals – a 50-second shuffle and a 30-second walk – but I do it and I really enjoy being out there with other people and feeling like I belong to that community.”

He found his community within the West Coast Road Runners and has run many of his 26.2-mile challenges with his clubmates, including the Boston Marathon – a race that holds a very special place in Bryan’s heart.

“I have run Boston six times in person and I also did the virtual edition last year. I am able to qualify each year through the disability entries and feel very fortunate to get to be part of such an incredible event.

“I have run four of the Majors so far – London and Tokyo are still on my list.”

Super six: Bryon has finished Boston six times

Bryan has a place for his fifth star at the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon which coincides with his 60th birthday, but his disability and the ongoing pandemic mean that he will only be able to travel if he is fully vaccinated by then.

He is a smart runner and knows his own limits. He knows how to complete a marathon on his terms, especially now that all of his marathons in the past year have been virtual.

“I don’t go further than eight miles from home so I can manage my fluid intake [I can’t carry anything around my waist due to two incisions on my lower spinal cord].

“Running doesn’t seem to affect my neck. I get other discomfort and pains but it’s just part of my life. I never run two days in a row but I don’t take a day off – I will walk on the off days and overall I am doing OK.”

Bryan also volunteers as a mentor at the Challenged Athletes Foundation to support and motivate athletes with similar disabilities.

“I talk with the athletes about their partial or full spinal cord injuries and we talk about the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and how we often experience this when our normal life is taken away from us.

“To have a goal can really help you get out of the depression. For me, getting up in the morning and going out to run 26.2 miles over five or six hours is my goal and that keeps me doing my best.”

Bryan also finds his inner strength and drive by thinking of five things to be thankful for every day.

“I have lots of hope about the world and every day I can think of five or more things that I am truly grateful for. Running is always one of them and despite all that has happened to me over the last 21 years and to everybody during the pandemic – the roads are still open.”

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* Note: Always consult a physician and get a full health evaluation prior to marathon training. Even if athletes appear healthy, or to have a disorder under control, underlying medical conditions could exist. Depression is a serious, mental health condition and those with depression should consider seeking help from a mental health professional.