The air was sucked out of normally raucous Xcel Energy Center, as if someone had thrown all the doors open at once, when Brady Berge went down.
It was the semifinals of the 160-pound bracket in the Class 2A wrestling tournament last March and Berge, the hands-down favorite, was well on his way to the final when the unthinkable happened.
“It was the second period and I chose [to be] down,” the Kasson-Mantorville senior recalled. “I had to stand up, we kind of turned awkwardly and my leg just snapped. I broke my fibula in half and tore the ligament right off the bone. It was just a freak thing.”
This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to Berge. He is wrestling elite by those in the know, held up often as a shining example of everything the wrestling community holds dear: work ethic, dedication, humility and talent. Especially talent.
While wrestling is a family passion — with six total individual state titles among Brady, older brother Broc and cousin Aaron — Brady is the star. Before last season’s injury, he had a 234-4 high school career record with three state championships.
His combination of speed, strength, balance and agility makes wrestling coaches’ eyes light up.
Ever the warrior, Berge tried to finish the match, but that clearly was not possible. As he was carried from the mat, the stunned crowd stood en masse for a standing ovation.
“That was a special feeling, to see the appreciation people have for wrestlers and the sport of wrestling, especially in Minnesota,” Berge said.
Nine screws and a plate were required to repair his leg, followed by three months on crutches.
“That was the hardest time for someone like me who has always been active,” Berge said.
He dedicated himself to recovery, using the same discipline that fostered his reputation as one of the nation’s top high school wrestlers. An expected eight-to-nine month rehab period was whittled to five — just enough time to help him prepare for the current high school season.
“I was back on the mat in five months and back competing in six,” Berge said. “I have so many people to thank — my coaches, my family, my friends, my doctors, my [physical] therapist. No way I could have come back without them.”
He’s wrestling better than ever. He first competed last October in the nationally prominent Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina, where he was named its outstanding high school wrestler. Intermat wrestling website lists Berge as the top-ranked 160-pounder in the nation.
All of that led to a commitment to Penn State, the reigning NCAA champion and winner of five of the past six national titles, last fall. Berge has posted a 41-0 record this season, improving his career mark to 275-5. He won the Class 2A, Section 1 160-pound title last week — his sixth consecutive section championship — and is seeking his fourth individual state title and third team championship starting Thursday back at Xcel.
But those goals, all of which he’s expected to reach, are secondary to something a little more important.
“I don’t have much time left at Kasson-Mantorville,” Berge said. “I want to slow things down and take the time to cherish what I’ve got. I want to enjoy it with my friends and coaches. Number one, I want to have fun.”