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For 65-year-old Solvang resident Joe Lisoni, the Senior Olympic Games in Pasadena were about more than competing for prizes.

Although Lisoni did return home with a medal for his second-place finish in the 25-yard freestyle swim June 10, the former consumer advocacy lawyer’s larger goal was to spread awareness and provide inspiration for others with mental illnesses.

“I wanted people to know that you’re not dead at 65 or with a mental illness,” said Lisoni, who was diagnosed four years ago as bi-polar and manic depressive. “There’s a huge need for mental healthcare in the United States.”

Lisoni, who did much of his training at the YMCA in Santa Ynez, worked on several prominent and national cases during his four-plus decade career as a lawyer out of Pasadena. He said he swam recreationally over those years, but was forced to stop eight years ago due to a shoulder injury. He said a recent physical exam motivated him to get back in shape.

“I got fatter than a circus clown,” he said. “My doctor told me, ‘This isn’t the Joe I know.’”

Once he started swimming again, he returned his sights to the Senior Olympics, for which he also competed in 2004.

Lisoni said he hopes his message can help others.

“For people with mental illnesses, don’t be afraid to call a psychiatrist or psychologist,” he said. “That’s what they are paid for. Get help.”

willis@syvjournal.com