Running the Eau Claire Marathon on May 6, Jordan Bergeman hit a wall at mile 22.
“The sun was baking, my body was aching,” he recalled in a Facebook post three days after the race.
Then he looked down and saw his 11-year-old son Jeffrey’s face. The father-son team were competing together as they had since 2016, with Jordan pushing Jeffrey in his custom racing stroller.
“Jeffrey was happy, … and his goal was still in sight,” wrote Jordan, 32, of Chippewa Falls.
The pair crossed the finish line, completing the race in 3:03:37 and qualifying for the Boston Marathon, one of two events Jeffrey wants to take part in, with more than a minute to spare.
But qualifying doesn’t mean Jordan and Jeffrey are heading to Beantown in April. Even though they finished the 26.2-mile race with a qualifying time, there are two hurdles the pair must clear.
First, the field of participants is limited, and only the fastest qualifiers are admitted, and second, no one younger than 18 can enter the Boston Marathon.
‘This is about Jeffrey’
The Bergemans have heard “no” before, and Jordan, his wife, Jess, and their many supporters are hoping father and son will be Boston bound next spring.
“This is about Jeffrey, and he set the goals of doing Boston and Ironman,” said Jordan, noting the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon is Sept. 9. (Like Boston, Ironman has an 18-year-old age requirement.) “Dad is just along for the ride.”
Officials from Ironman didn’t respond to a request for comment. However, the Boston Athletic Association did.
“Duo riders are registered as official participants,” according to a statement from the BAA. “The Boston Marathon’s rules of participation for all athletes — regardless of division, program or disability — state that participants must be 18 years old on race day. While we understand the desire for many to participate in and experience the Boston Marathon, these rules are in place to ensure equity across the event and the best possible and safest experience for all.”
Seeing Jeffrey, their eldest son, compete and complete each race means to the world to Jordan and Jess. On May 24, 2008, their happy, healthy toddler suffered sudden cardiac arrest at their home. Emergency medical workers responded quickly, but Jeffrey’s heart arrested twice more, and the resulting resuscitation efforts were lengthy. Jeffrey was without oxygen to his brain for eight to 20 minutes, and he suffered irreversible brain damage.
The couple learned how to care for their son, who is in a wheelchair and nonverbal. While he can’t speak, Jeffrey and his family, which includes his younger siblings, Susan and Samuel, have a system of yes and no communication through head turning and eye gaze. The eldest Bergeman child also can smile and giggle, two things he does when he is racing.
Several years ago, someone sent Jess information about I Run 4, an organization that pairs runners with buddies with special needs. In September 2013, Jeffrey was paired with Kareen Lawson, a runner from northern Virginia who runs dozens of races each year in Jeffrey’s honor.
Jess later began running, and in summer 2015 she ran her first race pushing Jeffrey in his wheelchair as he laughed and giggled. Jordan, who competed in track as a sprinter at Chippewa Falls High School, decided to start running and racing, too, and he and Jeffrey ran their first marathon — the Anthem Richmond Marathon — in November 2016.
Jordan and Jeffrey participated in their next full marathon — the Eau Claire Marathon — on May 7, 2017, and they were only 10 minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. That wasn’t good enough for either father or son, though, and they set their sights on qualifying in Richmond that fall.
The weather in 2016 was perfect in Virginia, but it was a different story in 2017. It was cold and windy; the frigid temperature affected Jordan’s watch, which he depends on heavily, so he started out too fast; and he suffered severe cramping in his left quad along the course.
Despite the hurdles, Jordan and Jeffrey completed the race, and their time of 3:13:25 was their fastest marathon finish. However, they missed qualifying for Boston.
“I saw how disappointed Jordan was after the race,” Jess said. “He didn’t want to let Jeffrey down.”
‘Go, go, go’
So, the elder Bergeman, a network engineer at Marshfield Clinic, set his sights on the Eau Claire Marathon, training six days a week. The day of the race, while it started and ended well, had some “rough points,” including the wall Jordan hit at mile 22.
“I’m not going to pretend all the pain went away or that internally I no longer wanted to quit — because I still wanted to quit,” Jordan wrote in his May 9 Facebook post. “But would Jeffrey quit? No! So, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
“I couldn’t do the math very clearly at this point, but I knew we could still make it,” Jordan wrote. (For his age group and gender, the qualifying time for the April 15 Boston Marathon is 3 hours, 5 minutes.) “I hoped we could still make it. I prayed, ‘Please let us make it.’”
By the time Jordan and Jeffrey made it to Carson Park, Jordan had nothing left, and the duo’s speed slowed. The cheers of some supporters on the hill helped a bit, but as father and son raced on, they could hear the faint sound of something louder on top. It was Pat Toutant, co-race director, screaming words of encouragement.
“Go, go, go,” Toutant can be heard screaming in video as the duo race toward the finish. “Come on. You got it.”
Jordan pushed himself harder than he had ever done before, and he and Jeffrey crossed the finish.
“Pat was screaming, ‘You did it! You’re going to Boston!’” Jordan recalled. “It was just so awesome to qualify at Eau Claire.”
And it was pretty amazing for Jess and Susan see their loved ones not only cross the finish line but to BQ — Boston Qualify.
“I started to cry because I was just so proud of the boys that I love,” said Jess, who, along with Susan, tracked their progress during the race.
The time is now
Hoping to help the Bergemans compete in the Boston Marathon and Wisconsin Ironman, Toutant and his daughter Emi Uelmen, co-director of the Eau Claire Marathon, have reached out to both organizations.
Toutant qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2011.
“It’s quite an experience, and I hope these guys get to experience it.”
“I watched my dad try to qualify for several years,” she said. “With Jordan and Jeffrey, I loved that they were trying, and it’s pretty amazing what they’ve accomplished.”
That said, “it can all change,” Uelmen said. “Jordan is in prime, prime shape right now,” she said. “The question is how much longer will they be able to do this?”
Now that they have qualified for Boston, Jeffrey and Jordan aren’t sitting home waiting to see if they can compete. Since the Eau Claire Marathon, the pair participated in a 1-mile walk for United Cerebral Palsy; ran a couple of 5Ks; won first place in each of their age groups for the Oz Run’s half-marathon and took first and second overall; and even completed the Eau Claire Triathlon.
They plan to run Grandma’s Marathon on June 16 in Duluth, Minn., and Jordan is hoping to achieve one of his goals — completing a marathon in under three hours.
“Jeffrey loves it,” Jordan said, “and as long as he loves it, we’ll be out there.”
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