As a former Ohio State and current Team USA wrestler, JD Bergman has been flipped during practice and in matches. However, the former Buckeye big man recently experienced that sensation at high speed on an Ohio interstate… and walked away.
In an exclusive interview with College Wrestling Examiner Tuesday, the 29-year-old Bergman described his accident last Thursday, July 17 on I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland where his Jeep Cherokee flipped a number of times, ending up on its roof in the highway median. While the Jeep was totaled, Bergman walked away with barely a scratch, as seen in the accompanying photo of the wrestler and his vehicle.
“I had been at an Ohio State wrestling camp and was headed up to St. Ed’s (High School in Lakewood, Ohio) to speak to the Ohio Greco team there,” Bergman – a two-time Ohio high school state champ from Oak Harbor -- told College Wrestling Examiner. “I had driven over 30 hours in the past 8-10 days.”
“A flatbed semi truck was slowing down to pull over. I don’t remember seeing any brake lights, but he was nearly stopped. I had been putting my cellphone in the cupholder, looked up, saw the truck, and jerked the wheel to the left, then back to the right. That’s when I started flipping over.”
Bergman’s Jeep slid along its roof on the northbound lanes of I-71 near Ashland, Ohio, then went into the grassy median, where it was stopped by the metal cable guardrail designed to prevent vehicles from crossing over into oncoming traffic.
“I was upside down, held in by the seatbelt,” Bergman said. “It took a couple seconds to unbuckle. I didn’t know where I was – whether my Jeep was still in the road – and I was worried I would get hit by someone on the highway. The driver’s door was stuck shut, so I climbed over the seat and went out the door behind the driver’s seat.”
Here’s how Bergman described the accident on his Facebook page, accompanied by the selfie of him and the remains of his Jeep:
“Unbelievable! What happened on my way up to Cleveland to talk to some young wrestlers on Team Ohio is nothing short of a miracle!! I'll post a video later. The guy behind me said I flipped my jeep 6 times and then skidded on my caved in roof until I broke through the steel cables. The cops said they've never seen anyone get out of a wreck like that. I climbed out of my back door by myself with only a few scratches, even though there was glass in my pocket. Unreal. Jesus saved me...again. Praise The Lord.”
The accompanying photo shows a bloody scar across Bergman’s forehead… yet, when asked by College Wrestling Examiner about the extent of his injuries, the former Ohio State wrestler who now competes in freestyle at 96 kilos/192 pounds said, “I was more or less unaffected. I was in shock for 5-10 minutes, but no injuries, no soreness.”
Bergman, a three-time NCAA All-American for Ohio State and 2008 NCAA heavyweight finalist who is now the No. 1 ranked freestyle wrestler at 96 kilos for Team USA, was quick to give thanks where thanks was due after the accident.
“Not only did God protect me, but He helped me. Three people who I knew or had some sort of connections with were there right after the crash,” said Bergman. “Matt Bennett, a former Ohio State football player who went to Walsh Jesuit (High School), he was yelling for traffic in the left lane to avoid hitting me. We had worked together on Big Ten broadcasts when he was an intern at Ohio State.”
“Another guy at the scene was friends with my dad. He called my folks to tell them I was OK.”
Bergman said that a team of first responders, including two ambulances, two police cars, and a fire truck, all arrived within minutes of the accident. Despite the severity of the accident, Bergman did not go to the hospital. One of the individuals who stopped immediately after the wreck took him to his scheduled appearance at St. Ed, a traditional wrestling powerhouse just outside Cleveland, where, as Bergman told College Wrestling Examiner, “At St. Ed’s I showed some kids some Greco throws. I wasn’t even sore. It’s a miracle.”
As Bergman told Takedown Wrestling's Scott Casber in a video interview posted Friday, "Not only did God provide me complete protection, but He also provided me with a way to get to Cleveland."
Lessons learned, lessons shared
“When I arrived, the coaches said, ‘Don’t you want to take a shower or at least rinse off?’ I was bloodied and dirty. But I went ahead and gave my talk.”
“I got to tell kids how important it is to wrestle for (the state of) Ohio.”
“I ended my talk with Proverbs 14:12, which basically says, there’s a way that seems right to man, but leads to death. We sabotage ourselves by thinking we’re doing well, doing what’s right.”
Continuing with his message to the wrestlers at St. Edward High School, Bergman said, “Think about texting and driving – how dangerous it is, like drinking and driving. Think about how many people do it. That should make us aware that there’s something wrong with doing it.”
“I wasn’t texting at the time, but I was messing with the phone,” Bergman explained to Examiner.com. “I told the kids to put the phone in the glove compartment, where it can’t get in the way of driving safely.”
At the time of the wreck, Bergman, who openly professes his Christian faith, was wearing a shirt with the message “Respect All. Fear One.” “The message has multiple references, in terms of God, and wrestling. With wrestling, it means that you should be respectful of opponents and wrestle your best.”
Despite saying that during the accident that it “felt like a giant was crushing my car like a pop can,” Bergman said he was never really scared, adding, “I realized the roof was gonna cave in only as much as God would let it.”
“People say I’m lucky but I think it’s more that I’m blessed.”
Bergman concluded the Examiner.com interview by passing along his appreciation for all those who wished him well after his accident, saying, “I’m very overwhelmed and grateful for all the support. I still have many messages to respond to.”
What's next for Bergman
In his video interview with Takedown Wrestling's Scott Casber, Bergman described his upcoming itinerary, "Next week I fly to Vegas to work on a camp with Tom Ryan, Logan Stieber, J Jaggers and other Ohio State guys. Then I go to Seattle to do a health talk and talk about my faith..." Later in September, the former Buckeye -- who was an Olympic alternate for the 2012 London Games -- will attend the 2014 World freestyle championships where he will work out with Tervel Dlagnev, Team USA's heavyweight. Bergman and Dlagnev have been training partners since 2009.