For nearly three years, Bruce Berger has carried with him a standard white index card, nearly mangled to death. Written in black ink it states, “I will qualify for Kona in 2012.” It used to say 2011, but Berger had to take a black marker to the date, the product of two failed tries, persistence and resolve. There’s a hole roughly the diameter of a pencil at the top. The card has been folded into submission and bears several noticeable stains.
To Berger, that ugly, battered index card is beautiful.
Kona is a reference to the Kona District of the Big Island of Hawaii, site of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. On Oct. 13, 2012, Berger will be one of roughly 1,800 participants in one of the most grueling, elite competitions in the world. He owes a lot of it to that index card.
A star middle distance runner for VCU in the mid-90s, Berger, 40, earned All-America honors at the 1996 NCAA Track & Field Championships. After college, he says he managed to stay in decent shape, but didn’t race much. There was the occasional 5K or marathon, but just enough to satisfy his competitive twinge.
Three years ago, bearing down on his late 30s, Berger decided to strike back against the clock. After years of running 5K races at sub-15-minute pace, the thought of running in the 16-minute range and just winning an age group wasn’t enough anymore. He didn’t want to measure himself against other 30-somethings. He compared his results to the younger version of himself. So, Berger, along with friends and former VCU teammates Duncan Sheils and Alan Pietruszkiewicz, decided to begin training for triathlons.