Using faith to silently propel
BY EVE GRAVES
The 2018 Grandma’s Marathon allowed me the privilege of supporting what I consider one of the most remarkable duo teams out there – son Jeffrey and father Jordan Bergeman. Jordan, who just started his running career in 2016, is not only wicked fast, but he has also overcome more obstacles in his 32 years than anyone I know.
After 16 years of being a key volunteer for all of the Grandma’s events year round, I decided that my future would include assisting duo teams in need. In 2011, one of the best memories of my life was made when I was able to push my dad (may he rest in peace) up Mt. Lemmon during a half marathon at altitude and then in another 5k.
It dawned on me that I had met this team at the Whistlestop Marathon in 2017. Who could forget the fast guy pushing his child!? Registering just a week prior to the event, his wife had to work, leaving the pair without a driver or any support. I was thrilled to be there for them, as it was exactly how I wanted to contribute that day.
Grandma’s Marathon day
Team Bergeman is pretty much self-supportive once dropped off at the start. After meeting them at their hotel and transporting the lone marathon duo to the starting area, I merely had to drive along the route, meeting them at specific mile markers to resupply the beverage of choice.
Jeffrey and Jordan had the goal of a sub-3-hour marathon for a personal record. With temps a bit cooler, they smashed that vision with a time of 2:56.
Chippewa Falls has been the place Jordan has called home for his entire 32 years. In high school, he played a bit of football and ran some sprints during track, forgoing all athletic endeavors after that until 2016.
At Age 19, Jordan’s life began to encounter some pretty big challenges that kept on coming at him for a few years thereafter. Marriage, a mother with terminal cancer, purchasing a home, job loss, an accusation of child abuse and two children were just some of his stressors.
His son Jeffrey came first, then Susan. When she was just four months old and fussing a lot, a trip to the doctor and a full scan indicated a broken femur and nine broken ribs. With no good explanation for the damage, Jordan was accused of child abuse. For four months, he was not allowed to see his children unsupervised.
Luckily, Jordan and his wife Jess insisted on genetic testing for their daughter, only to learn the diagnosis was Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone) Disease.
During the same time frame, Jeffrey, 22 months old, suffered cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, during the 20 minutes his brain was deprived of oxygen, he developed severe brain damage and Cerebral Palsy, rendering him 100-percent dependent on his parents.
Coping with it
Two very young children, both with significant medical needs, along with a new job that took Jordan away from the home five days a week, created mountain-sized challenges for the young parents.
Unfortunately, he chose alcohol as a reprieve from it all and eventually became an alcoholic, which just created a bigger hole. Fortunately for all involved, Jordan hasn’t had a drink in 8 years.
The parents also found solace in God, and that gave them the strength to move forward in a positive healthy manner. They were even able to adopt, Samuel, who is 6, from Ethiopia in 2013.
The start of running
One of the most astonishing things about this duo is how recently Jordan started running and how fast they are. Jordan’s wife began running with Jeffrey and found out how thrilled her son was with it, so being the loving father Jordan is, the duo began training for a 5k in September of 2016.
After just one month of training, they participated in the Bear Crawl 5k. Team Bergeman flew through the course in 21:52 taking fourth place overall.
“Jess is the one who first encouraged me to run with Jeffrey,” said Jordan. Bergeman. “Events are a family affair in the Bergeman household. They provide the best cheering section.”
Both Susan and Jess have pushed Jeffrey in events and eventually, Susan hopes to do a triathlon with Jeffrey. Samuel is working up to the 5k distance through shorter events.
To date, the Bergeman duo has done over three dozen race, including half marathons, marathons, 5k races and triathlons. PRs include 18:10 in the 5k, 1:27 in the half, 2:56 in the full, 1:29 in the sprint tri and 6:45 in the half ironman triathlon, all while Jordan propels a bonus 130 pounds.
The custom Hoyt blade II, decorated with Ironman colors for Jeffrey, is all aluminum and designed specifically for racing in running and biking events. During the bike event, the chair is attached via the “bike boom” attachment.
The swimming leg is accomplished by pulling Jeffrey in a raft that is tethered to Jordan by a rope that clips via carabineer onto a nylon belt that Jordan wears.
Transition zones take a significant amount of time due to the transfer of Jeffrey from the raft into the chair, along with Jordan doing what he has to do for himself.
Challenges at the event
Getting yourself to a race is one thing, but logistically, a duo has a lot more to prepare for than that.
Bergeman says, “Instead of just needing clothes, shoes and fuels, we need all of that plus Jeffrey’s chair, items to care for him and we have to get there much earlier to prepare and begin.”
Equipment checks, sometimes putting the chair together at the starting line and making sure Jeffrey stays comfortable through rain, heat, cold and more are all additional challenges the duo faces.
“Physically, it’s more of a challenge as well,” Bergeman continued. “Uphills are a lot harder, and what a lot of people don’t realize is that the downhills aren’t a joy ride either.
That chair wants to pull the upright runner down the hill really fast and it’s a huge strain, even with a handbrake. In the half marathon I did with my dad, we had one small section of dirt and gravel downhill – lucky for me, someone was able to help me or I think my dad may have had a fun trip until he ran into something to stop him.
Frustrations with the system
Unfortunately, quite a few events have interesting rules that are preventing the truly speedy Bergeman duo from partaking in them. Three of the races they most want to participate in are saying “no.”
The Boston Marathon has a 3:05 qualifying time for those Jordan’s age who are NOT moving 130 pounds more than themselves. He blew that time away with his 2:56. Apparently, due to “equity and safety,” all participants in the Boston Marathon must be at least 18 to participate, thus preventing the duo from entering.
Other competitions preventing the duo from signing up using age as a reason are the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Wisconsin.
Team Bergeman signed up for Grandma’s Marathon the week prior because of the 4:15 qualifying time policy that Jordan did not agree with.
“I feel that it is discriminatory to a disabled/rider athletes,” Bergeman said. “All other participants have seven hours to complete the event and do not have to meet any sort of qualifying time. They are given seven hours, and if they make it, they receive their medal and shirt; if they don’t make it, they won’t receive them. I feel this should be the same approach with duo teams. I think for the safety of all parties involved, that there could be certain equipment requirements or that duo teams should have a plan for safety going into the event, but I do not feel there should be a qualifying time. I do feel that they are willing to discuss this policy and hopefully will change it in the future. After completing Grandma’s in 2018, I personally don’t see a need for this qualifying time to be in place. As long as the duo team is alert and aware of others around them, everyone should be able to have an enjoyable race.”
Greg Haapala, Director of Grandma’s Marathon said, “Our protocol has 4:15 as an established time to help provide a safe environment for all involved – duo teams, other runners, etc. The 4-5 hour span is our densest part of the race typically, and thus it is safer and a better experience for the duo team to be ahead of that.”
Changes you’d like to see
Bergeman notices apprehension or fear of duo teams when he has approached race directors to join in their events. His thinking is they may have a concern that a team may be more of a burden than a blessing.
Both of our opinions are that having a duo team on the course actually benefits the event. When pushing a disabled person in a chair, it shows that no matter what your ability is, anything is possible.
“Jeffrey is the athlete out there – I am simply the engine that is propelling his dreams forward,” Bergeman said.
As for me, I felt it let others see a great way to spend time doing something you love with a family member who was no longer able to compete on their own.
Team Bergeman has also encountered where races want full entry fees for both participants, yet will only put one of them in the results. They are forcing Jeffrey to be a full-fledged participant, yet not allowing a result.
With a big bucket list to fill and the energy to do it, watch for this amazing duo in the red chair at upcoming events. I’m hoping Jordan learns to ski so they can participate in the Stride, Ride, Glide Tri next March.