Bergman for gold: Oak Harbor native makes waves on wrestling mat and in ‘Foxcatcher’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Feb. 7, JD Bergman came home. The celebrated wrestler — a former NCAA All-American for Ohio State, a man with 10 national championships who had two stints on USA’s world team, not to mention a cameo in the Oscar-nominated wrestling drama “Foxcatcher” — returned to his alma mater, Oak Harbor High School, to speak and share his story with a crowd eager to listen. It’s something Bergman said he loves to do more than most anything.
“I think that the No. 1 thing is truth. I think that it’s pretty hard to come by, in our world, in our culture,” Bergman said in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “Truth is not relative. And really, truth and love. With all the things that have happened in my life thus far, I feel like it’s just the beginning. And it’s become pretty clear in the last year, too, that I want to help as many people as possible become healthier, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
That desire to communicate his passion for wrestling, for his faith, for honesty and commitment is indicative of Bergman as a whole, especially as he faces a crucial time in his career on the mat. The 30-year-old athlete stands at a bit of a personal crossroads as he approaches what may be the final two major events of his career — the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, and his ultimate goal, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. After that, Bergman will be 32, and his career will be over, probably.
“There’s really no way to tell for sure, because I thought — almost without a doubt — that I would be finished after 2012. And the things that I’ve learned with health and wellness, and the preventative measures I’ve taken … by the way I live, it’s almost like a fountain of youth, in a way. But really, I’ve just removed interferences in the body’s natural healing process.”
Bergman was never pressured to get into wrestling, even though it runs in his blood. His dad was a former Ohio State champion, and his uncle trained him at Oak Harbor High School. Eventually the wrestling bug bit then-10-year-old Bergman, though he still had his eyes set on other athletic pursuits.
“I remember doing pushups when I was 8, saying I wanted to play for Lou Holtz. I always wanted to play football, even after I wrestled,” Bergman said. “Everything I did, I had kind of a perfectionist mentality. … Everything I do, I want it to be excellent.”
Even when he earned a scholarship to wrestle for Ohio State University, Bergman still had an eye on the gridiron. “I took the full ride to Ohio State but I had a meeting with Coach Tressel, and I was a preferred walk-on and first team all-state running back. I wanted to play football in my offseason — as soon as they allowed me to redshirt wrestling, I wanted to play football. And then in my mind, I would have started on the football team and never wrestled again.
“It was pretty clear God took me in a different direction, and I’m totally fine with that.”
But don’t get the impression that Bergman isn’t 100 percent committed to being the best wrestler in the world — far from it. He has sacrificed years to training and suffered innumerable injuries in pursuit of his Olympic dream, which almost came to a sudden end when he placed a disappointing third at the 2012 U.S. trials, narrowly missing the chance to compete in front of the world.
Shortly after that, though, another opportunity arose when Hollywood came calling. He learned of auditions for the film “Foxcatcher,” a wrestling drama based on the story of John E. du Pont, starring Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo.
“I immediately thought, I don’t know who else would be a good extra for a wrestling movie. Because I’ve always wanted to act. I’ve just always had that desire for entertainment.”
Bergman had already committed to a three-week trip to Canada, leaving him unavailable to audition. But one day, on a whim, he made an impromptu audition tape featuring a bunch of impressions — “Family Guy,” Droopy Dog, Will Ferrell characters and more.
“I sent that to him, and they gave me a call back without me even being at the audition. And actually, [director] Bennett Miller actually wrote a part in the movie for me. We filmed the whole thing in, like six or seven hours. … It obviously ended up not making the final cut, it ended up on the editing floor. But it was very cool.”
Bergman said he was thrilled to get the chance to work with talents like Ruffalo — who he’s remained in contact with, and who has supported Bergman’s “Road to Rio” Olympic fundraiser — and Carell, who has long been one of his favorite performers.
“We hadn’t really officially met, but we had shot a few scenes together,” Bergman said of Carell. “And he’s doing a really, really challenging role. And I just said, ‘We just shot a whole scene all day, I’m just going to go and introduce myself.’ And I just said, ‘Hey, Steve, it’s a huge honor to work with you, I’m a big fan. I think I’ve watched every episode of ‘The Office.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it was my pleasure, too. You were hilarious.’”
Is a career in Hollywood a long-term possibility? Bergman said he’d love the chance to do more movies. For now though, his passion to be the best in the world on the mat takes precedence over all.
“I know I can be. I’m not being optimistic — and I am very optimistic as a person — but I’m not being unfair or optimistic. I know for a fact that I can do that, and it’s very much an attainable goal. And it’s very much a realistic thing,” he said. “I’ve wrestled the best guys in the world. And I know I can be that guy.”