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World Masters Games: 90yo vision-impaired athlete overcomes grief to compete in Auckland

Ms Solaga will compete in four events at the World Masters Games this month in Auckland
Ms Solaga will compete in four events at the World Masters Games this month in Auckland.

ABC News: Stuart Bryce

Joan Solaga is not your average athlete.

She has trained hard to overcome some obstacles, but not the kind athletes usually face.

She turned 90 in January and is vision impaired.

The biggest challenge however was fighting deep grief and depression after losing her husband Bob 18 months ago after 65 years of marriage.

"I knew I had to but I didn't know how."

It has been a long road mentally and physically to get to this month's World Masters Games in Auckland.

Ms Solaga is competing in shotput, javelin, discus and the 1,500-metre walk.

Ms Solaga said she got through the grief of losing her husband of 65 years with the help of her family.
Ms Solaga said she was grateful and blessed to have the support of her family.

ABC News: Stuart Bryce

The journey to becoming an athlete started after her husband's death, when her doctor asked her what she wanted to do.

Her doctor suggested pilates and sent her to physiotherapist Michael Dawson.

"She walked in the door and the first thing she said is 'Michael, I don't know you, I don't know what pilates is, but if I don't like you or pilates, you'll never see me again'," he said.

"Now almost two years later she's doing some amazing things."

Joan Solaga and her husband of 65 years Bob.
Ms Solaga and her late husband Bob.

Supplied: Joan Solaga

The physiotherapist challenged her to aim high, saying goal setting was critical to achieving results.

So Ms Solaga set her first goal — to climb the 107 steps at Brisbane's Kangaroo Point cliffs. She was hooked.

"You feel so good after it, it's highly worth it," she said.

Next she climbed the Story Bridge in Brisbane before setting her sights on competing in the World Masters Games.

Granddaughter Emma Simpson will be one of Ms Solaga's family will be in the crowd at the games cheering her on.

Solaga and her husband of 65 years Bob.
Ms Solaga and her husband Bob were married for 65 years.

Supplied: Joan Solaga

"To be able to be in that stadium watching her compete for Australia, it's incredible," Ms Simpson said.

Ms Solaga credits her family, friends and coaches, who have inspired her.

"It's really not so much my effort, but all the effort that the other people have put into me," she said.

"I'm so grateful and so blessed.

The sky is the limit, even for this adventurous nonagenarian. But just don't ask her to jump out of a plane.

"That's the one thing I won't do, I'll do anything else," she said, before remembering there is something else.

"Oh, I won't climb Mount Everest."

Still, there are plenty of other options.