Solberg has done 51 marathons, including three Boston Marathons.
He’s a passionate hiker and cyclist. He lifts weights. At 6 feet and just over 180 pounds, he looks strong and fit, a grown-up version of the high school athlete who played five sports.
The difference is, Solberg now walks with a cane. His balance is impaired. His right hand can shake uncontrollably. He has perhaps 10 percent of the strength he once had in his legs. The strength in his right arm is about a quarter of what it was. His left arm, about one-seventh.
He doesn’t let it stop him.
It’s the result of a congenital condition that didn’t surface until 1999. He was a runner, cyclist and successful anesthesiologist in Corvallis, Ore., when he started experiencing coordination problems and weakness in his hands. Doctors discovered he was born without a small bone, the odontoid, that protects the C1 and C2 vertebrae from separating and putting pressure on the spinal cord. Finally, in his late 30s, he was paying the price.
Most people with the condition die at a young age, but Solberg survived. He is believed to be the oldest survivor of the condition. Sixteen years ago, he had surgery to fuse the two vertebrae. He had follow-up surgery a year later.
For a while, Solberg retreated into depression. He burrowed into what he calls his “cave.”
That changed when a friend took him to a Challenged Athletes Foundation event in 2002, a year after moving to San Diego.
“I watched people without arms, without legs, in wheelchairs, kids, older, whatever, doing stuff,” he says. “I said, ‘OK, what’s my excuse?’ That day changed my life.”
He vowed to get fit, active and as healthy as possible to see his two boys grow to adulthood. He didn’t want to be a burden to his wife or society.
Now he walks, runs, or bikes every day. Each night before sleep, he contemplates five things for which he’s grateful. He laughs often and embraces life.
“It’s a lot easier way to live,” he says. “It’s a great way to be.”