Still the record holder in three cross-country events, former Winger Wade Bergner will have his moment in front of a homecoming crowd at Winona State University on October 11. Bergner, along with five others, will be inducted into Winona State Athletic Hall of Fame.
"It's not a ball sport, so it's probably not likely," Bergner said of his initial thoughts on his chances of being inducted. "You're on the ballot for four years and I was nominated three years ago."
Bergner received a call from the athletic director that he would be inducted this fall. Since then, Bergner has had some time to reflect on his running career, its beginning and what others can take away from his induction.
Bergner knows he's had quite the career path and athletic background, but he would like others to feel the same way he did when he first had success.
"I pray that kids have that moment or find that," Bergner said. "To realize that they have something in them. It could be sports, arts, etc. People feel better when they are around that and it feels better to know you are worth it."
While in high school, Bergner admitted he struggled in academics and had a very low self worth. Labeled with a reading disability, he slowly started to disconnect from life and those around him.
One day in math class changed his trajectory.
"I was told to stay after class. I thought, "Oh no, not math too," Bergner said.
Former Red Wing coach Jerry Schaubach came in from the neighboring classroom and told Bergner about the team. Schaubach was impressed by Bergner's mile time and wanted him to try out for the team.
Bergner began to believe in himself after joining the cross-country team at Red Wing as a sophomore. Once fully invested, Bergner liked the feeling of success - it was something he hadn't felt much of.
"My talent was minimal," Bergner said of his early running. "I didn't qualify for anything individually."
Bergner persisted and became an accomplished runner. He holds three Winona State records - the 10,000 meter, 5,000 meter and the marathon. He was a four-time NAIA national qualifier in cross-country, helping the team win conference championships in 1988 and 1990.
In his last race as a collegiate athlete, Bergner came in second place in the marathon at the 1991 NAIA nationals.
Bergner was recovering from a back injury and had not run more than five miles before running the race. He was recovering in a pool for many weeks leading up to nationals. It was also the only race he could compete in.
"I was always so serious in competition, but that day I was relaxed," Bergner said. "When I let go I was able to achieve something I shouldn't have been able to do."
Bergner ran the Boston Marathon in 1998, hoping to qualify for the Olympic Trials. He finished 38th overall and missed the cutoff by 4 minutes.
Though he still runs, Bergner said his life became fulfilled once he began helping kids. After 20-plus years working for a few different companies - both involving kids in school - Bergner started the company Real U.
Real U's programs are designed to boost self-esteem. Using peer-to-peer videos, children ages 4-10 can learn valuable skills or strengthen the ones they didn't know they had.
Bergner said he knows children may feel similar to how he felt in school. He feels Real U will help children find what they need to succeed in life, just as he did.
In the fall, when Bergner and the other five 2019 inductees are recognized, he hopes that his story will benefit others.
"Every kid should have the chance to experience the feeling I felt," Bergner said.