Brady Berge couldn’t help but wonder if his sterling wrestling career might be over.
He was in a fog and with headaches, nausea and an aversion to bright lights after what happened to him in October of 2019 at the World U23 Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
The 2017 Kasson-Mantorville graduate and current Penn State redshirt junior had been clipped on the head by an opponent’s knee. It was severe enough — the knee making contact in such a dangerously precise way — that it had left him unconscious.
Once Berge did come to, he was alert enough as he lay in a Budapest hospital bed to realize that he had no feeling in his legs.
“As a 22-year-old, that is eye opening,” Berge said. “You don’t want to be in a wheelchair the rest of your life.”
Though his legs did regain feeling before the night was over, and the headaches, etc., passed after a couple of weeks, that incident will be with Berge forever. And that he had a lesser version of the same accident happen to him all over again two months later, makes it stick all the more.
Now, one year removed from all of that, Berge is back wrestling in a Penn State singlet. In fact, he’s looking better than ever, the 157-pounder carrying a 4-0 record and ranked ninth in the country. But Berge knows that as well as he’s performing, it’s not the same Brady Berge.
And that, he says, is a good thing.
Seeing his wrestling career nearly end shed new light on him. He holds deep gratitude for that.
“Any time you have a setback like I did, you sit back later and think about how fortunate you are when you are healthy again,” Berge said. “The other thing is, (the concussions) made me realize that wrestling is only a sport. It is not life and death. It reminds me to not make any of these (wrestling) moments too big. They are not going to determine the kind of person I’m going to be.”
DRIVEN AS EVER
Still, all of that said, don’t for a minute believe that Berge has lost his zest for the sport.
In fact, it’s likely stronger than ever, knowing that his head injuries left wrestling oh-so-close to being taken away from him.
“This sport has given me a lot,” said Berge, a three-time state champion while at Kasson-Mantorville and one of Minnesota’s most decorated wrestlers ever. “To be able to do it again now is really gratifying. I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in, competing in a Penn State singlet and competing with no fear. You don’t get too many chances on a wrestling mat, and I’m trying to seize them.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Berge left Penn State for his family’s Mantorville home, doing his schooling online. The prized student, a telecommunications major, stayed there for the next four months.
The timing was perfect. Berge was still healing from his injuries, much of it the mental and emotional kind.
When it came to concussions’ long-term effects, Berge was worried. So, he made visits to a medical center in the Twin Cities that specializes in them, analyzing their severity and also dealing with the emotional scars that can accompany them.
That might have saved Berge. Those visits aided his recovery and left him assured that he was safe to compete again.
“I got a lot of answers from them,” Berge said.
And compete he did, all summer long, in the family’s detached garage, where a wrestling mat is placed in the middle of the floor.
He had the perfect practice partner, too, in younger brother Bennett, a Kasson-Mantorville 182-pound junior who is well on his way to being considered one of the best Minnesota high school wrestlers ever, having already won three state championships.
Brady and Bennett have a tight relationship and there is too much respect coming from little brother for things to ever get ugly between them in that family garage.
COVID-19 and all of the quarantining that went with it, it turned out, worked out perfectly for these two.
Besides “little” brother Bennett challenging Brady four times per week for four straight months, all of those in-house competitions restored his confidence and allowed him to shed lingering fears of being injured again.
Few regard this pandemic as a blessing. For these two, though, it was.
“Working out with Bennett over quarantine was really fun,” Brady said. “It was good to get back into the sport that way. Bennett and I do really well together, and he loves to learn. I was trying to help him as much as I could.”
While Brady helped Bennett learn, Bennett helped Brady heal. It led Brady to the place he is now, the 157-pounder wrestling for the No. 2-ranked team in the country, unbeaten and as hungry and fearless as ever.
Now, Brady has just one goal. It’s to give this season and any that will come after it, everything he’s got. Nothing, he’s been painfully reminded, is promised for tomorrow.
“I just want to (concentrate) on my school work and having a good week of practice,” he said. “My goal is to be present every day and make sure I’m enjoying myself. If I do that, my end goals will take care of themselves.”