Like many 2-year-olds, Fred Bergen loved fire trucks, and growing up in New York City meant they were a common sight. At 47, Bergen, who now lives in The Dalles, has lived with the effects of his childhood curiosity ever since.
“I was looking at a fire truck out of a fourth-story window,” he said. “I leaned on the screen, it broke and I fell out the window.”
Bergen suffered head trauma, broke both wrists and an elbow and had leg injuries that had a major impact on his childhood and still influence his dexterity and range of motion, particularly on his left side. Determined to overcome his challenges, Bergen went through years of rehabilitation and surgeries, “ignored the name-calling,” as he puts it, and went on to live a relatively normal childhood.
“I had to deal with kids calling me names and stuff, but it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “I had a lot of friends and I stood up for myself, so I didn’t put up with it much.”
Today Bergen works as driver and CNA for the Oregon Veterans Home in The Dalles and, as a side job in the fall, has been a football referee for the last six years. Although running up and down the field in pace with the young players is a challenge for Bergen, he says he has grown to love his part in a sport he wasn’t able to play growing up.
“I tried out for my high school football team in ninth-grade but didn’t get to play,” he said. “Then I was cut because they were worried about another head injury. When I started refereeing, I didn’t realize it would be so enjoyable. It’s a sport in itself and it’s something I really strive to learn and get better at.”
Bergen’s injuries affect the way he runs and the fluidity of his stride, so he says he has to be smart about being in the right position on the field to keep up with the action.
“I’m 47 years old and I know I’m not going to keep up with those teenagers on the field,” he chuckled. “I’m getting better at getting out of the way of the plays but being in the right position to make the calls.”
Bergen says being out on the field is an accomplishment he is proud of; he overcame obstacles in his life and is finding joy in something others may have doubted he was capable of.
“I have always liked inspirational quotes,” he said. “One that has resounded in me is the saying, ‘Determined to remain steadfast against all odds.’ You can run away from things in life or you can run right at them. I believe in facing challenges head on. If you don’t make it, if you don’t succeed, you can say ‘Hey, at least I tried. I never gave up.’”