Two years ago, former Gophers wrestler Chris Berglin followed John Meyers out East to Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
Meyers, a Connecticut native, was the new wrestling head coach at SCSU after a one-year stint as a graduate assistant there. Berglin, although he had just received his communications degree, wanted to pursue a career as an English teacher and wrestling coach.
The duo roomed together and became coaching partners when Meyers asked Berglin to be his assistant.
This was a natural move, bringing these two friends and former teammates together again.
Last Thursday, however, the best friends were connected in a way that seems horribly unimaginable. Berglin fell into a canal in downtown Paris and drowned, despite Meyers’ efforts to save him — a tragic end to an almost storybook friendship.
Both went to the University of Minnesota, with Berglin, 24, graduating a year later than Meyers. Both were on the wrestling team, both in the 134-pound weight class.
While at the University, the two became close friends even though Meyers had been the one who kept Berglin off the team when Berglin was a sophomore.
“They were like Mutt and Jeff,” Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson said. “They were always giggling and laughing with each other.”
Both worked at Robinson’s wrestling camp last summer but had something a bit different in mind for this summer: an eight-week tour of Europe. Meyers and Berglin arrived in Paris last Monday, and in a phone call to his mother, Dee, later in the week, Berglin said he was already ecstatic about the trip.
“He told me how excited he was, and how happy he was,” Dee said. “This was a vacation that he had been planning all year.”
Around 3:30 a.m. in Paris last Thursday, Meyers followed Berglin into St. Martin’s Canal, just off the Seine River in downtown Paris — together one last time.
The two were running back toward their hostel after a night on the town.
“They were probably just skipping along, having a good time,” Dee said. “I can just envision it.”
Though the area is popular, said Dee, it is not well lit. Also, no guardrail separates the cement path from the canal. Dee estimated the drop-off to be between three and 12 feet.
Berglin apparently slipped or tripped and fell into the canal below. According to former teammate Billy Pierce and another friend who wished to remain anonymous, Berglin could not swim well, if at all.
Meyers dived in after him in an attempt to save Berglin’s life. Meyers declined to comment on the accident, so what followed is not clear.
The anonymous source, a friend of both Berglin and Meyers, said Meyers told her the only thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital.
The fire department, which according to Dee is more highly regarded than the police department in France, pulled both men from the canal and tried in vain for an hour to revive Berglin.
Less than a week after her son’s death, Dee was able to talk about Chris, not with sorrow in her voice, but pride. Her composure and willingness to talk not only about her son’s life but also his death was almost scary.
But Dee might just have been happy that her son accomplished so much in his sadly abbreviated life. Chris, she said, “had a zest for life, and he’d do anything for anybody.”
An outpouring of sympathy, accompanied by glowing stories of Chris, at least provides Dee with the knowledge that her son was universally loved.
“Everyone who has sent letters to us has said how he inspired them in some way,” she said. “It makes me proud that he was my son and that he meant as much to other people as he did to us.”
When he was at Minnesota, Berglin won people over not just for the traits that typically make someone popular, but also for the ones that help create the personal satisfaction few achieve.
Berglin walked on the wrestling team as a freshman, and by his junior year he broke the lineup. After his junior year, he went to a wrestling camp and found, according to Robinson, “a new intensity.”
As a senior, Berglin made the NCAA tournament and was one match away from being an All-American.
“Chris was the classic example of what someone can do if they have a great love of the sport,” Robinson said.
Meyers, though unwilling to discuss the specifics of the accident, fondly remembers both Berglin’s hardworking nature and likability.
The phrase “one day at a time” pops up frequently when discussing grieving friends and loved ones. No one is sure how deeply Meyers will be affected in the long run. But on this day, Meyers was most concerned with the writing of his friend’s eulogy, which was interrupted by a reporter’s phone call.