JD Bergman - No Turning Back

At 211 lbs., JD Bergman is a force to be reckoned with. Having wrestled for Ohio State in the past, he now throws down at a professional level. He’s attained an impressive career record, having snagged nine National Championship titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman styles, becoming a three-time All-American for Ohio State and wrestling as a 2010 US World Team Member, earning the honorable title of “Freestyle Wrestler of the Year.” Continuing this impressive streak, Bergman is now a hopeful for the 2012 London Olympics. If all goes well, he’ll be able to add an Olympic gold medal to his killer record.

Born and raised in Ohio, Bergman has become one of the most recognizable names in Ohio wrestling history. In fact, wrestling runs in the Bergman family. JD’s father, James Bergman, wrestled and coached for Xavier University, and his uncle George coached for Oak Harbor High School where he coached JD, his two brothers and five other Bergman cousins. It’s fitting, then, that a Bergman should finally make it to the Olympic level.

Helping him reach this goal is the Ohio Regional Training Center. When the Ohio RTC was formed in 2008, Bergman was their first athlete. The Ohio RTC currently supports nine Olympic hopefuls with the goal of filling as many spots on the 2012 Olympic Team as possible. Bergman is buckling down and training harder than ever in the hopes of finally earning a spot on the US Olympic team next year. In our exclusive Q&A with Columbus’ local wrestling champion, we learn more about the man on the mat as he tells us what really gets him going and where he gets his inspiration and motivation.

How did you get started with wrestling?  
The 4th grade was when I put on wrestling shoes for the first time. 5th grade, I was immediately thrown into the fire. It was the Schoolboy National Duals, the best of the best in the country. I got pinned or beat up every match. But by say the 5th grade, things started to turn around for me.

How did your childhood affect your decision? 
I have two brothers who wrestled and two cousins who also wrestled – we had five Bergmans on varsity at Oak Harbor High School. My Uncle George is doing a great job; he’s coached there almost 25 years. We’d fill a van with Oak Harbor kids and we’d go to tournaments around Ohio, sometimes Michigan and New York. Think of it this way: you wrestle about 20 matches in a junior high season and we’d get that almost in one weekend. In the 8th grade I got third; I lost early and it was 7-to-1 on a Saturday. The next day I wrestled a Greco-Roman tournament, won the tournament and then won the freestyle. It was 8 that day – so 15-to-1. I basically got a junior high season in one weekend. You can imagine how much that helps. You learn a lot from losing.

Who inspired you? 
My dad, James Bergman, he was state champ in 1972. He’s very positive and a good motivator.

Have either of your brothers ever beaten you in a match?
I’m pretty sure Paul beat me at a Genoa or Oak Harbor tournament in the 6th grade.

Where do you get your motivation and dedication?
Jesus Christ.

Where did you grow up?
Genoa, until the 5th grade. I moved to Oak Harbor for the schooling and the sports.

Where do you call home now?
Columbus. I live with a married couple. They wanted to adopt a 26-year-old (laughs). Tervel Dlagnev is my best friend and happens to be the best heavyweight in the world. He just got married; it’s been a year and a half now. He also just got 5th in the World Championships about three weeks ago. He’s 270 and can do a back flip – he’s unbelievable, but very humble. 

Do you have any special family traditions that you’d like to pass on to your children? 
My mom’s birthday is Christmas Eve, and we have a blast. We don’t all try to beat each other up anymore. We always have a live 15-20-ft. Christmas tree. Our mom decorates it; she’s very artistic. We always cook a seafood feast and definitely have some really good food and good fellowship hanging out.

Did you have any jobs growing up that you loved or hated?
Because sports were so time consuming, the only job I ever had was working for my dad. He owns Henry W. Bergman, Inc. – an excavating and road construction company. My Uncle Joe (Coach Bergman) was in charge of the crack filling and sealing crew, and who did he recruit for his workers? All his wrestlers. He could watch the junior high wrestlers through the summer and make sure they’re working hard, make sure they’re not eating Twinkies and watching TV. All five of us in our family worked there. 

So that was your first, only, best and worst job you ever had? 
It is. It’s character building, for sure.

The Ohio Regional Training Center originated in 2008 with you as a main part of their program – how did the ORTC really come into being? 
It used to be called the Buckeye Wrestling Club and they would raise about $30,000 a year to help send Ohio State athletes to the U.S. Open and stuff. Now we are not a part of Ohio State. Technically, we’re a nonprofit organization. It’s a very meager lifestyle – only $24,000 a year to train, but it’s amazing. The guys in this room, it’s so awesome. Tervel Dlagnev came here because he wanted to train with the best guys in the country, and that’s kind of the basis of how the ORTC started. Joe Heskett and Tommy Rowlands were both 5th in the world in 2007, and they were coming [to Ohio]. I was younger; it was my first U.S. Open and I blew my knee out, so I didn’t really start until another year, after ACL reconstruction.

What makes the ORTC such an exceptional place? 
The first thing is Lou Rosselli. He’s a great guy, a family man. He’s really forward, very honest and a great motivator. He was an Olympian in ’96, but he’s 41 and works out harder than some of our college guys right now. He still scraps with some of the best guys in our room, and he’s the main reason we have five of the best lightweights in the entire country. The second thing is that when you start getting guys together who realize that training for an Olympic medal is their life, the dedication behind that is inspiring. It’s a huge motivator and we’ve all become really good friends.

How would you like to give back to the ORTC? 
There’s still a small part of me that may want to move to running it. I’ll always donate, however successful I am. I’ll always be helping the wrestlers, sharing my  own experiences.

Would you consider doing anything with your communications major after wrestling? 
My dream job right now is to do something like Guy Fieri, from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. That’d really fulfill my passion for hosting and being a personality, and my passion for food. I’m not a chef or anything, but I sure can talk about food in front of a camera any day of the week.

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Every year, the FCA hosts a Legends Event, and I got Christian Athlete of the Year. That was a proud moment.

How confident are you regarding your place in the London 2012 Olympic Games? 
To answer the question before I preface it with anything: extremely. Extremely confident. It’s weird because right now where I sit in this chair, there has to be some things to take place, but I have faith that I will be more than ready when the time comes. Just over the years, throughout everything, to be sitting here ... I’ve seen a lot of competitions, I’ve wrestled a lot of tough guys around the world, I’ve wrestled with the last two world champions and been close to beating them. Yeah, I’m excited for what the future holds.

What has to happen in order for you to go through? 
I’ll have to beat Jake Varner two out of three. I’ll have to beat Tommy in the mini-tournament, and then I’ll have to win the Olympic Trials two out of three and I’ll have to outperform him in a tournament overseas.

Worst injury you’ve received?
Probably blowing my knee out in 2008: ACL, MCL, medial, lateral meniscus and some bone bruising. It was pretty bad, hurt a lot more than the first one. It happened at the U.S. Open, my fourth match. I actually lost 33-34 lbs. in three weeks to make 211.

List out all your injuries.
I broke my back in high school, sophomore year. I had four knee surgeries in 2005 to 2008. Both these ligaments were torn [gestures toward his shoulders], which some people think require surgery, but they don’t. In a sport like wrestling, you need function, so if I got surgery it would limit my mobility. So I just had to do a lot of Thera-Band rehab, and a lot of rehab to keep the small muscles around them strengthened. Two summers ago, I almost clay-shoveler’s fractured my C7, which was like an edema on my spine, and then I tore a disc in my back this past March. That would’ve been my big thing. There was more blood on my spine there, so that had to resorb and stuff. I tore ligament off my bone in my hand, basically broke or did something to both wrists and hands. Scratched cornea, that’s actually one of the most painful things I’ve had to deal with. Muscles ... I have really dense, God-given strength, but I need to work on that structural stuff a little bit.

What’s your favorite music to listen to when you train? 
I’m not that advanced technology-wise, so I don’t normally have ... I mean, I literally never bought a CD. I love music. I was in choir and all that, but I never got into the techie side of things. I didn’t even have a computer until I made the world team and they gave me an iPad, which is sick. So I moved up in the world, you know? Like, I have an automatic bill pay now, but I was 26, almost 27 before I started getting automatic bill pay. I would go to the bank every month to pay my credit card bill. No one else does that. I knew how, it’s not like I’m ignorant. I just like doing things face-to-face and it’s easier for me to do that. I’m pretty simple as far as ... I don’t spend money on anything besides food. I had a girlfriend give me an iPod. Lecrae, I think, Christian rap. He’s nasty. Actually, we just saw him last night; he’s unbelievable, sick. I’d probably say Lecrae is my favorite to listen to, as far as workout music goes.

Who’s your all-time favorite WWE wrestler? 
I don’t have one. 0% have I ever followed that. Never watched it. Whenever I go talk to little kids, they’re always like, “Oh, you ever hit someone with a chair?” Every time any wrestler at our level goes to speak to kids or volunteer on something, they always ask us if we fought John Cena or something. Always. That’s just common … no kids know real wrestling.

With the group of guys that you train with at the ORTC, is it sometimes unnaturally competitive? 
Does it ever become a surreal environment?
I mean, it becomes pretty routine, so usually, no. But, like today, I walked in there and I was like, “This room is sick.” You got like, an Olympic champ right there. Oh hey, that guy won the U.S. Open. Oh, that guy got fifth in the world. Oh, that other guy got fifth in the world, too. We have eight guys in the room. They could win an Olympic medal and people wouldn’t be surprised. Eight. That’s unbelievable. It’s a lot of guys that’ve been top in the world training in one little room. 

What would you consider your strengths and weaknesses, as far as wrestling and you personally?
I’d say my faith. That’s number one in both areas. Strength, literally, would be my answer for strengths in wrestling. Balance maybe. Weaknesses? Mental side. I’d say the mental side of wrestling. The physical side of wrestling, as you know, makes it the hardest sport, I think, in the world. You take the mental side of wrestling, it’s off the charts. Over the years, I think I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. You beat yourself up before you get out there, or you respect the guy too much. One of my favorite quotes is “Respect all, fear none.” You gotta balance that. Have confidence, stay humble, but also fear no one.

Do you prefer freestyle or Greco-Roman? Freestyle. 
I haven’t wrestled Greco since ... 2006?

What is your greatest fear? 
The Lord, for sure. I don’t really have a fear – not anymore I don’t.

What’s your favorite place you’ve visited or competed?
 Dubai. I didn’t compete there, but we were there two times, to and from Iran. We were going to Iran, and we overnighted in Dubai. Our layover was in Dubai twice. It was unbelievable. The coolest place I’ve wrestled, and also second coolest place I’ve been: Beijing. I climbed the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City ... when we go places, it’s usually third world. Wrestling thrives in the Eastern block, in like Russia and Siberia. But Beijing was my first trip overseas: 2004, I was 19; I beat their 27-year-old Olympian who got like sixth in the Olympics that year. But besides that, besides wrestling, we got to do stuff. It was like a tour; it wasn’t a competition. It was a training camp thing. It was so cool because we got to actually do things.

Where do you want to go that you haven’t been to yet? 
London, for sure, is top of the list. But not for the fish ’n’ chips (laughs).

How do you relax? 
Sitting on the couch. You know, once you’re on the couch with like ... I do like, three or four pillows behind my back, so it’s like a hospital bed shape instead of like a couch. So yeah, sitting on the couch with Tervel and/or Kirsten. It’s good camaraderie, and I love camaraderie. That’s how I relax.

Any pre-match rituals? 
Yeah, a big warm-up: you blow the lungs out, make sure you breathe in. A lot of stretching. Basically, make sure everything’s real loose; you want to be really ready to go. Also, mentally, I definitely say a prayer before every match. Not for victory, but to wrestle my best.

What do you think is a big misconception that people have about wrestling? 
I would say the biggest misconception is like the sweaty, non-appealing uniform, rolling around with guys, that type of thing. You could talk to a wrestler off the mats; it’s a very humbling, character-building sport. Sure, you have your outliers that are gonna be jerks or something, but you find that everywhere in life. It’s a different breed for sure. It takes a lot to wrestle, and maybe have a screw loose if you’re comparing yourself to what normal people would do.

Any hobbies? 
Big hobby is Texas Hold ’em, love it.

Describe your death row dinner.
I’ll never be in that situation but ... (laughs) pizza. I gotta give a shout-out to Pisanello’s in Oak Harbor, Ohio. I’ve eaten pizza everywhere, and I think that Pisanello’s from Oak Harbor, Ohio, is one of the best I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. 

The true measure of a man is ...
His faith, I think. The true measure of a man is where he draws who he is. Yeah, I’d say his faith.

One treat in Columbus that you can’t say no to? 
Graeter’s ice cream, by far. By far! Man, Graeter’s is sick. I can’t have it though. It’s very close between cookies ’n’ cream and cookie dough, but they’re both baller status.

Craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Man, I’ve done a lot of different and weird things. I mean, I climbed to the top of the Great Wall of China; I was on the top of the Great Wall of China when I was 19. I have like 15 to 20 impressions that I do, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the go-to, and a lot of people do Arnold and they don’t do a very good job at it, and I was doing Arnold and the kid that was recording me with the camera was laughing so hard ... I’m still upset about this ... he clicked the record button off. So I was basically doing this on-the-spot instructional video as Arnold on the Great Wall of China, and the kid recording it clicked off the camera.

What’s the best way to deal with pre-match jitters? 
Prayer. Just asking God to turn that nervousness into excitement and focus. I always pray that I’ll be able to wrestle to the best of my God-given ability. Prayer helps me calm down and stay focused. 

How much of your year would you say you spend in training?
There’s only a couple weeks of the whole year that I’m not training.

What was your favorite toy or game growing up? 
I’ve never been much of a gamer. My brother and I, we’re definitely more of the go- outside-and-play-and-catch-bugs types. When I was little, we’d catch praying mantises, dragon flies, grasshoppers. We’d catch bugs and put them in jars. I caught a groundhog with a laundry basket once; that was probably the weirdest thing I caught. My brother got sprayed by a skunk.

Define “success.”
It’s not necessarily wins and losses. I think it’s actually realizing why we’re here and what we’re doing on Earth. Having a successful life is seeing the bigger picture. I think being loved and loving others is the greatest success you can have.

Imagine yourself in 5 years. What are you doing? 
What car are you driving? That’s completely up to God; it’s not up to me. A goal that I made along time ago before I was a Christian was that I’d love to be able to afford a Dodge Viper before I’m 30. Chances are I’ll still be driving my beat-up college Jeep in 5 years. I definitely have an interest in speaking; basically anything on a stage or in front of a camera or a microphone. I definitely have an interest in sports broadcasting, but I just don’t know.

You have a ridiculously large family – 68 cousins! Are you close with all your relatives?  I think big families have an interesting dynamic. My dad was one of 14, my mom was one of 8, and I’m one of 5. We all love each other and we can be close, but we’re also very independent. It’s relative, you know, closeness. And at the same time, when we’re together, it’s like no time was lost and we always have a good time. Family is everything.

What do you look for in a mentor or a coach? A strong faith. A realness, honesty, and a toughness.

Respect is …
Deserved by all.