Cancer-stricken referee visits Iowa wrestling room
Andy Hamilton ? Iowa City Press-Citizen ? March 17, 2009
John Bergman was back on a wrestling mat wearing his stripes again Monday afternoon.
The longtime referee from Waterloo stopped by the Iowa practice room to watch the top-ranked Hawkeyes work out and leave his shoes on the mat -- a symbol of retirement from the sport.
"What better way to retire my shoes than on a world-class mat in front of the Iowa Hawkeyes," said Bergman, who had his referee top signed by each of the members of Iowa's coaching staff and each of the team's 10 starters.
Bergman was a guest of the Hope Lodge. He told the Hawkeyes his story Monday, how he was diagnosed with cancer in December and how he said wrestling saved his life.
Bergman was officiating at an early-season high school tournament in LaPorte City when he caught his foot in the mat.
"I thought I twisted my hip," he said. "I stopped the match and called another official in. I just went over to sit down for a little while thinking I just twisted it and it would be all right. Two matches later I went back in and it was fine and I worked the rest of the day. A couple days later I went to the chiropractor because it was hurting and he adjusted me for several days and finally said, 'I don't think there's anything more I can do for you. I think you better go get an MRI.' I did and we found the mass.
"Cancer has taken its toll, I've been in hospitals for the last three months. I'm weak. I couldn't even walk out onto the mat by myself. I'm weak. But I'm feeling lots better and it's getting better day by day by day. ... I'm a survivor. The prognosis they've given me is 100-percent survival."
Monday seemed to be a feel-good day for Bergman. He sat in the chair near the mats while the Hawkeyes started their workout.
"The smell of the sweat is like petunias to me," he said. "It's great, I love it."
Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.